Archive | February, 2014

Creating on the Edge

18 Feb

In yoga, teachers often tell students to push themselves in a stretch only to the point where it is just starting to hurt. One is NEVER to push to the point of true pain for that defeats the whole purpose. Instead, one is told to go just to the edge of where the muscles aren’t used to being stretched and to use one’s breath to ease into new territory. In essence, this is a balance between surrender and will.

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In therapy there is a similar concept referred to as “titrating the anxiety”. This describes when an individual’s anxiety begins to increase because he or she is on the brink of a breakthrough and growth. It is a process of adding an unknown element to a known one and seeing how the two ingredients settle. Yet the resulting degree of anxiety shouldn’t be so intense that it creates terror or paralysis for that serves no one.

These concepts have vital correspondents with the creative process, for in creativity, we want to have a degree of freedom and ease, yet take the necessary risks to excel and grow. Creativity demands that we walk along the edge of the unknown. It takes us into new places, which can scare and inhibit us, as well as delight us. We become like Dorothy, at first terrified by stepping out of one’s comfort zone. Then we start to see life in technicolor as we journey through Oz.

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We live in a society with a common mindset that success results from pushing ourselves to the point of collapse. This of course is the death of creativity. Instead, we want to strike that beautiful balance between rest and motion, and stability and chaos. We also want to recognize when it’s time to slow down and refuel, so that we have the energy, courage and conviction to take new risks in the future.

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Creating as an Act of Love

14 Feb

Valentine’s is one of those days that many hate. For couples, often one partner feels pressured to “get it right” while the other feels like he or she was ignored. For singles, there can be a myriad of feelings from longing to be in a relationship to being blissful that one is not….

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Personally, I like to remove myself from this cauldron of unmet expectations and pressures and think about love in a more abstract way. Specifically, I like to think of creating as an act of love.

Creating carries the tremendous power to help us transform our lives. It assists by allowing us to organize chaos while we attempt to make something of beauty from it. For instance, when I was little, I was enamored by the fact that my grandmother could knit. I’d watch her needles clicking and her fingers looping yarn around them as a sweater began to take shape. The ultimate thrill was how something could be made from nothing – or at least from a string of yarn.

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This phenomenon of creating something out of nothing constitutes the mystery and marvel of Creation itself. For something to emerge from a void or chaos is indeed a miracle. And for those of us whose lives feel shattered and whittled down to a thread, creativity becomes a force that can breathe new life and possibilities into us. Through this healing agent, we can break through stagnate situations and transcend them for as Albert Einstein once said, “Logic will take me from A to B – imagination will take me anywhere.”

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Creativity is a trait inherent to all human beings. It is not something doled out to the elite or those born with special talents. Every single one of us has the seeds of creativity woven within us. It is an aspect of how we are made in the image of God for no other creature but humans and God can create. While all animals and even vegetation procreate, only humanity can conceptualize something and bring it into existence. We are the only ones who can transform the idea of a building into the splendor of a cathedral or take an emotion and translate it into a painting.

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And indeed, creativity is the opposite of destruction. In an age where tensions are rising and impulse control is diminishing, we need tools that preserve life versus destroy it. When people are becoming prone to pulling triggers, we need a different type of weapon.

Given the healing properties of the creative act, perhaps it is not unusual that creation itself reflects this process too. For instance, in nature, events that appear harsh might be part of a greater master plan to form vast beauty. Who would ever have imagined that erosion of the land over millions of years could result in something as magnificent as the Grand Canyon?

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Yet that fantastic feat of nature directly results from wear and tear no different than how pressure and heat make diamonds and other precious minerals. Likewise, if you live in a climate where there are four seasons, you know that by winter the landscape becomes bare and desolate. The trees appear stark and it seems everything is frozen to death. Yet underneath the ground new life will spring forth when the snow melts and the temperatures warm. When that happens the riot of beauty that ensues can literarily take our breath away.

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As a young girl, I was expected to do a fair amount of gardening as a child. I wanted to rebel against this but instead found I enjoyed it. As I pulled dead leaves from shrubs, pruned and re-potted, my mind quieted until the only sound I perceived was the rustle of the wind. I discovered that cutting back limbs gave birth to new buds and pulling weeds at their stems allowed other plants to breathe. As my fingers thrust into the earth, I could feel the pulse of creation, echoing back my existence as well. And as the sun nourished the plants I tended, it also sustained me.

Because of this link to gardening, I tend to think about healing in relation to both gardening and nature. Spending hours in the garden, I began to perceive a type of wisdom inherent in creation. Although not spelled out for me, I discovered truths in what unfolded daily. Creation and the creative process itself seemed to reflect aspects of the Divine and what I perceived were expressions of God’s love. If there could be such beauty, God must exist and if new growth emerged from decay, this must be God’s regenerative grace. However, somehow we have to see beyond the dead leaves and know enough to step into the garden. We also have to get our hands dirty.

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This Valentine’s Day why not make something? You can make something for someone else or make something for yourself. And you can create by yourself or with a tribe of like minded people. Both will be an act of love.

Postal Code: Heaven

14 Feb

A stuffed Panda was looking at me from a bin at Office Depot. It was Christmas Eve afternoon and although I never shop so close to the holidays, the store was near church. And I was running low on ink.

It seemed to have life like eyes. I stared back at it, noticing its red and white holiday scarf wrapped around its neck. By reflex, I picked the animal up. I registered its softness along with the strange way it seemed to fit exactly into the space between my arms and chest, nestling there as if it were my child. It took me by surprise. I hadn’t felt anything that soft or about that size for four months. I closed my eyes with the memory of holding a baby like figure.

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I decided to buy it. If anything, I could save it for the neighbors next door who were expecting a child within a few weeks. I hadn’t yet purchased their shower gift. But I knew that night that I wasn’t giving the Panda to anyone. The Panda was staying with me.

Once home, I placed it on the bed giving it a seat of honor. Then I curled up, took the toy into my arms and drew it to me. A few months ago, I would have hurled the Panda against the wall in anger for making a mockery of real life intimacy.
I looked at the Panda’s eyes that seemed to be gazing at me in such a life like fashion. How was it possible that an inanimate object seemed to be peering into my soul? Had the toy makers just done an exceptional job knowing how to replicate human features to induce an emotional reaction like good animation makes you fall in love with Winnie the Pooh? I wasn’t certain.

I sighed and felt myself falling into a slumber more peaceful than I’d felt in months. The Christmas tree had spared me a painful holiday season. As long as there was life present in the house, I missed Rumi and Hafiz’s absence less and could bear it more. I could see the tree from my bedroom. Like when I was a child, I fell asleep while looking out at the tree. Its gentle illumination lulled me to sleep. Its presence was like an angel standing on guard.

I had ordered the tree on Amazon.com. Yes, on Amazon. Although it wasn’t delivered by a drone it was nonetheless brought to my doorstep by a local Christmas tree farm. I looked at it leaning against the side of my house all bundled up in twine. When I tried lifting it, the thing seemed to weigh a hundred pounds. I needed a stand yet didn’t know where to buy one. I decided to try Lowe’s Home Improvement.

A neighbor had to help me. She came to my house before work and together we lifted the thing into the stand and screwed it into place. Then we cut the twine and like a woman letting her hair down from a severe bun, its branches tumbled out. As they spilled their intoxicating scent into the room, it was love at first sight.

Then I had to leave for a week of business travel. After pouring a gallon of water into the base of the stand, I gingerly parted company with the tree. I felt almost as sad as I used to be when leaving Rumi and Hafiz in the care of a house sitter.

The tree was waiting for me when I got back. If Rumi and Hafiz were alive, they would have batted at its branches and tried to climb up it. They might have even knocked it down although it was pretty big. The house still smelled amazing. As I went through the mail, I discovered someone had sent me an early Christmas gift. It was an ornament upon which the faces of Rumi and Hafiz had been painted. The likeness was so striking my heart ached. On the back of the ornament was printed, “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.” A.A. Milne, Winnie the Pooh.

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The tree kept me company for a month. I didn’t want its living presence to depart and dreaded New Years. Another neighbor had to help me take it down and hoist it on top of my Mercedes while my surf racks now served a dual purpose. We took it to the Christmas tree cemetery.

Then I swept the dry needles from the floor and mopped the floor. It was deja-vu of cleaning the house after Rumi and Hafiz died. One had cancer; the other couldn’t bear to see his brother go.

The next day I sobbed.

I now sleep with the stuffed Panda and a stuffed cat while I till the soil of my heart, preparing for new creatures to love.

If I could send a Valentine I would address it: Postal Code – Heaven.

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Word Becomes Flesh….

7 Feb

On March 28th, the film “Noah” opens. I would imagine the timing is strategic as Easter follows shortly afterwards on the calendar. Already some of the Christian world is up in arms claiming that it won’t be true to the Bible or biblical enough. That it will be too saturated with Hollywood’s penchant for violence and sex. Well, spoiler alert. The Bible has lots of violence and sex.

Personally, I’m thrilled as I think the Bible is rich with source material for epic cinema. Done well, it could have the power to illuminate as well as entertain. But cinema is a different medium than literature and the Bible is its own unique form of literature anyway, comprised of poetry, genealogies, historical accounts, narrative, parables and letters. Anytime a book is adapted to screen, it has to translate into the specifics of film making. To compare the two is like trying to find the similarities between apples and oranges.

But that does not mean the endeavor isn’t worthwhile. On the contrary. There is much to be gleaned from taking characters and themes from the Bible and allowing the Word to become flesh. By doing so, we are able to play with the text, explore it and apply it to our own lives. Is this a form of eisegesis instead of exegesis? Perhaps. But aren’t we always bringing our own experiences and perspectives into interpretation anyway?

I remember exploring Genesis stories in a psychodramatic fashion with seniors in an orthodox Jewish nursing home in New York. At first there was some some resistance for deconstructing the text in such a fashion. Then there was great enthusiasm. And do you know what the common reflection was after exploring the Noah story in this way? That the rainbow at the end, which serves as a sign of God’s covenant with the earth, for them represented symbolic hope that the Holocaust would never again occur…. Yes, our own lives impact how we see the world around us.

In the last year, I have been exploring characters from the Bible by acting a few pieces from a collection of monologues found in Lady Parts: Biblical Women and the Vagina Monologues. I’ve been performing the character of Jael and the Woman Caught in Adultery.

The Woman Caught in Adultery, written by Lisa Nichols Hickman is a beautiful piece clearly reflecting redemption themes and also a woman’s burgeoning awareness of her innate worth separate from her sexuality. The story is only found in the Gospel of John and some claim it was included only for specific theological illustration.

The story of Jael is found in Judges. Most don’t know it. She kills a Canaanite warrior, Sisera with a tent peg and is lauded as a heroine of Israel. This strong interpretation by Emily Havelka is quite subversive. When given the chance to actually speak, the imaginary Jael says she didn’t kill Sisera for Yahweh or Israel. She did it to save herself from being raped. Is this true to the Bible? Well, no. But is it feasible. YES. Right after the mention of Jael’s victory is the Song of Deborah. In it, there is mention of Sisera’s mother who would be eagerly waiting for her son to return. She says, “Are they (her son and the men), not finding and dividing the spoil? – A girl or two for every man…” (Judges 5:30). Personally, I find it disgusting that a mother would talk so nonchalantly about other women being raped by soldiers but this was the reality. And indeed, near the end of Judges, a concubine is brutally gang raped and left for dead because, “all the people did what was right in their own eyes.” “And they raped my concubine until she died. Then I took my concubine and cut her into pieces…” Judges 20:6.

These things don’t mean so much until you actually hear from the people they concern the most in the story.

No Gentlemen, This Won’t Get Me To Sleep With You…..

5 Feb

This one takes the prize. Last week while traveling, I awoke at 2:00 a.m. to hear voices outside my room. Irritated, I opened my door to see three business men congregated in the hall who didn’t realize that their post-drinking voices were interfering with my slumber. “If you guys could keep it down a little, it’s late,” I said. They were most polite. They didn’t realize their voices were carrying and that they were right in front of my room. They apologized and went to their respective rooms. I returned to my bed. Ten minutes later, just as I was dozing off, the phone rang. I wondered if the concierge had messed up my wake up call, setting it for the wrong time.

“Hello,” I mumbled.

“I’m sorry we woke you up.” It was one of the guys.

Ever the politely trained puppet, I replied, “That’s okay,” although I was thinking, “And you’re waking me up again!”

I expected the guy to hang up but he waited a beat then asked with complete sincerity, “Do you want a roommate?”

My groggy brain tried to register the implication. He was asking me if I wanted to sleep with him. I had never seen this man in my life other than for some 30 seconds in the hallway. We hadn’t had a drink in the bar. A conversation or even a previous glance. And there is nothing attractive about me at 2:00 a.m. unless hair that looks like a cross between a bird’s nest and a chia pet turns you on.

I slammed down the phone and then couldn’t fall back to sleep. I felt 100% violated. What right did this stranger have to call me in the middle of the night and proposition me for sex? Was he so clueless as to not consider that I might have a husband in my bed or want to be left alone so that I could work the next day? Are we such a base hook up culture that men actually think women desire this? And whatever happened to sex being a sacred covenantal act?

I am not an object but that is how women are so often treated. And this guy wasn’t so drunk that he couldn’t register my room number. He just wanted to get it on and I was the closest object in his line of vision.

As more people have come out about their sexual orientation, I remember the reaction many heterosexual men had when males started to openly acknowledge they were gay. Homophobia not withstanding, many heterosexual men were suddenly fearful that they would be the object of unwanted sexual advances. “We can’t have gay men in the locker room or the military. They’ll flirt with me. Or come on to me. Or worse still, they’ll throw themselves at me,” was a constant refrain.

“Welcome to my world,” I wanted to shout. Try being a woman for a day. And try treating women the way you would like to be treated. Like a person. Gentlemen, is this how you want your daughters and sisters and mothers to be treated?

This is not just a rant about my irritating slimy experience in a hotel (that by the way was not at a cheap run down dive). This is part of a much bigger problem.

The night before the Super Bowl, the PBS Newshour ran a story about how sex trafficking increases at high profile sporting events. Men want to continue the games after the game and so look for a little action. And they do this by paying for it, not realizing that some of the women (and girls) being pimped out are actually the equivalent of slaves. We take outrage at our history of slavery in this country (as we should!) and yet fail to realize we still have it occurring right under our noses. But when people become objects, we don’t recognize it as such.

We have not come a long way, baby. We have so much longer to go.

I almost didn’t write this post because I felt ashamed. Yet I had not been raped. I was not violated. I did nothing wrong. And yet just by being treated as an object, I was already internalizing the thought process of victimization. “I’d better not say anything. This will reflect badly on me. I must have done something wrong. Otherwise, this wouldn’t have happened.”

And that is OUTRAGEOUS. And no, it won’t make me want to sleep with you.

Leaning Into Transformation….

1 Feb

I haven’t had much time to blog lately but I just finished an interview for the book I’m working on: “Leaning Into Transformation: How Our Wounds Become Our Gifts.” The video is posted below.