Saturday, January 12, 2013

Why Is It Never Enough?

I was with a friend last week, curled up on the coach, watching Downton Abbey. It was one of those idyllic moments when everything was right with the world.  And into the middle of the quiet a sudden thought trampled in on hobnail boots..."This is going to be over soon. You are going to really miss this when you get back home."

Little mind that I still had several days left with my friend much less that Downton Abbey still had 45 minutes of show.  All I could think of was that it was all ending too soon. It wasn't going to last long enough.

Have you ever experienced that feeling? You go on vacation and immediately start counting the days until you have to return home? Or you are, say having a massage and no sooner has the oil hit your back that you think, "This won't last long enough." Or you put your spoon in a bowl of ice cream and wonder how much is left in the carton.

Nothing ever seems long enough for me. Certainly not the time spent with friends or moments of pleasure. Always always looming before me is the realization that as soon as something begins, it begins to end.

I'm not sure if it was the loss of my mother combined with several other major losses, including a huge financial setback, that has made me even more sensitive to the beginning/ending nature of things, but more than any other time in my life, I find myself caught in a painful anguish of wanting things to last but knowing that they will not. Of knowing that for every moment of warmth, there is a cold breeze coming.  Of having every happy moment penetrated by the knowledge that the end is coming.

I think that it all comes down to feeling insecure, of feeling that it's a rough and dangerous future out there. Certainly all that transpired in the past year has added to that feeling and I'm having a hard time remembering how it feels to be secure in the present and hopeful for the future. 

I catch myself saying, "If I can just get my job situation in a better place. If the relationship details will just work out. If I can just figure out what the next steps are...then..."  Then what?

Then what.

Friday, January 11, 2013

The Body Remembers What the Mind Forgets

The body remembers what the mind forgets.

Never has this statement meant more to me than in this year of griefwalking after my mother's death. I know the concept of muscle memory--I can still ride a bike (I think!) and intellectually I understand that somehow the cells of the body store "memories" of emotionally intense events.

It's why, for instance, the scent of lilacs takes me back to my childhood in Montana or the song "Walking in a Winter Wonderland" propels me to the days of my first love. And it's why at certain points in my griefwalk I've been blindsided by physical sensations that have caught me off guard.

During the past twelve months (has it really been that long?), I have had days when I felt panicky, apprehensive, irritable or just plain "off." When I would stop to examine my feelings, generally I would recognize that I was approaching some significant anniversary or holiday, like Easter or a birthday or even the day my mother first went into hospice.  Even when I wasn't consciously aware of the date, my body would somehow remember it...and let me know somatically.

Now I'm coming up on the one year anniversary of her death and if I weren't consciously aware of it, I would certainly be bodily aware. My heart races for no good reason, I get a niggling headache, I feel slightly nauseated and I am tired, so tired that even my bones are weary.

This is the last milestone that I have to mark.  I've passed once through all the holidays, personal days, significant seasons. There are just two more days that I must traverse--the day of her death and the day of her funeral.  If the rest of the year has been any indication, the actual days will pass with little or no trauma. It's the time leading up to them that will be hard. It's as if my body is anticipating the memory, bracing and preparing itself. Then, when the moment finally arrives, it exhales and what's left is not the body's memory, but the mind's.

And the mind's memory is easier to deal with than the body.  I think that's because the mind pushes the memories front and center and insists that they be examined and processed. The body is more covert. It nudges the memory, allowing it to be expressed in odd symptoms and unexplained aches, pains, fears and worries. It's only when I am able to bring the memory out of the body and into the mind that the feelings begin to subside.

So I tell myself to breathe. For I've learned that healing comes one breath at a time.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Success and synchronicity

Since I've been pondering success and failure with Ms. Ego the past few days, when this picture appeared in my email, I decided it was a message from the Divine.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Ms. Ego aka the Inner Critic Strikes Again

The past few days I've been wrestling with the ideas of success and failure, coupled with a dose of envy and dollop of jealousy. At the same time I've been working on a bible study in which I am telling people how God will bring consolation, answer prayer and generally be a loving father.

Since I'm not feeling much consolation, seeing many answered prayers nor feeling the touch of a loving father, this whole thing is adding to my sense of failure. Here I am telling people that God will do things that I'm not experiencing. It's not wonder I'm having a bit of writers' block.

Ms. Ego, whom I introduced yesterday, is quick to pounce. "Just look at you," she taunts as she points an accusing finger. "Telling people how great God is and how God does all these wonderful things and you don't believe a word that you are writing. Talk about a failure," she adds as she flips her hair (Ms. Ego has long, flowing hair that shimmers like a waterfall in the sunlight) and flounces around the room. (She flounces with vigor.)

I sit in a  blue funk silence in front of her. Her accusations always contain a seed of truth at their heart. That's what makes her such an effective prosecutor of my self-esteem. She knows the soft, secret places where to twist the knife.

"So what do you have to say now?" she asks, her hands on her hips and a sneer on her lips.

"You've got a point," I mumble.

"Of course I do.  I always have a point," she chides.

"Do you think you could leave me alone for a little while?" I ask. "I need to think through some things."

She shrugs before saying like Arnold, "I'll be back."

Why am I always so much harder on myself than anyone else? Why do I have such a difficult time seeing what I've done right and such an easy time seeing all the things I've done wrong? Why am I so prone to criticize myself? And why does it sometimes feel like I'm like the Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland, running as fast as I can to stay in the same place?

Because I've been running here before.  As I wrote in Facing Adversity with Grace:

When I was growing up, I believed that God loved suffering. I erroneously assumed that God thought suffering was the best gift in the world and he wanted everyone to suffer as much as possible, as often as possible. I’m not quite sure where I got that idea, but I do know that the sisters in my grade school were very fond of telling stories about the incredible suffering of the saints, always making sure we got the underlying point that we should be emulating them if we wanted to go to heaven. The reasoning seems to have gone something like this:  God loves his only son, Jesus. God wanted Jesus to suffer and die. God was very happy when Jesus suffered and died. Ergo, since God also loves us, God wants us to suffer as well. When we suffer, God is happy, so God must love suffering.
Since I was a very earnest and pious child, I did my utmost to fulfill what I believed was this obligatory path to holiness. I performed many acts of penance in my quest to suffer to gain the love of God. For instance, the Lent when I was about eight, I gave up all my recesses and lunch hours to pray the rosary in church, even though I hated praying the rosary then and still do now. (Before you are too shocked, St. Thérèse of Lisieux wasn’t very fond of the rosary either, saying that she found it rather boring and sleep-inducing.) Over the years, I denied myself many legitimate and even worthwhile activities, thinking that somehow my suffering was making God love me more. I looked for ways to make myself miserable, believing that there was a direct correlation between my unhappiness and God’s approval and love. I even took Rose of Lima as my confirmation patron because I was fascinated by the fact that she destroyed her beauty in the name of holiness. (Looking back, I was a bit of a morbid child!)
That pattern continued well into my adult life. If I had the choice between doing something that brought me pleasure or something that created pain, I’d almost always choose the pain, earnestly believing that God always prefers agony over joy. After all, the image of Jesus dying on the cross hangs in every church, not Jesus having a glass of wine at the Wedding Feast of Cana. When I didn’t choose the more painful path, I’d make up for it with additional suffering later on, even if it was just mentally berating myself for the failure of my flesh to have suffered in the first place.

Needless to say, my choices were not always the healthiest mentally, emotionally or spiritually and I visited numerous counselors for depression and anxiety. Worst of all, my quest to suffer never made me feel more loved by God, but rather made me feel like I was too worthless to be loved. So I would try a little harder to suffer my way to God’s love, becoming trapped in an endless and increasing cycle of pain, all in the pursuit of holiness.
Now the real question is how to stop this vicious cycle once and for all.

To, perhaps experience what St. Faustina did:
 Once when I was being crushed by these dreadful sufferings, I went into the chapel and said from the bottom of my soul, "Do what You will with me, O Jesus; I will adore You in everything. May Your will be done in me, O my Lord and my God, and I will praise Your infinite mercy." Through this act of submission, these terrible torments left me. Suddenly I saw Jesus, who said to me, I am always in your heart. An inconceivable joy entered my soul, and a great love of God set my heart aflame. 

                                                   Lord, make it so.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Battling My Ego

My ego and I have been in a battle this morning.

 Richard Phillips “Mirror”

I don't know if it's January, the month of both new beginnings and the first anniversary of my mother's death, or if it's age, or the cold, or plain old envy or what, but Ms. Ego has been marching up and down my cerebral cortex with her recriminations.

She is feeling miffed, peeved, and depressed because she has been looking back at my life and seeing all the places where I made the wrong choice, where I failed to live up to potential, where I didn't achieve what she thinks I should have achieved.

"You aren't rich or famous," she chides. "And you could have, should have been. Now it's too late and you've wasted your entire life.  What a miserable loser you are.  How did I ever get to be your ego? I deserved a much better person."

"You're right," I agree. "I have messed up a great deal of my life. But what's the point of looking back at the mistakes? How can I change what is already past?"

My ego just harrumphs and goes searching through the memory banks to find another example of a place where I have failed or an idea that came to naught, to point out a friend or colleague who has "made it" while I haven't or to simply pout a bit about "lack of discipline and a ruined life."

I try to placate her with some of the good things in my life, like a wonderful son, good friends, answered prayer, but Ego doesn't care about them. All she cares about is fame and fortune. "Alas," she wails, "how could you have wasted your one precious life?" (Ego likes to misquote Mary Oliver, while simultaneously pointing out that I haven't won the Pulitzer Prize for anything I've written.)

I'm not quite sure what to do about Ms. Ego. I have to agree with a lot she says, but agreeing doesn't change the past.  That's when, if I listen carefully, I can hear the tiniest little voice quoting yet another poet:

Listen to the mustn'ts, child. Listen to the don'ts. Listen to the shouldn'ts, the impossibles, the won'ts. Listen to the never haves, then listen close to me...Anything can happen, child. Anything can be." (Shel Silverstein.)

Monday, January 07, 2013

Reaching for Success

I've had to battle surges of envy this year with several of my friends publishing books that are receiving national accolades and publicity. While I'm happy for them, their success makes me feel, well, unsuccessful.

So I've been asking myself what does being successful mean?

Reaching a certain income level?
Having a happy family?
Being recognized for my work and abilities?

What would it take to make me feel like a truly successful writer?

I’ve met many authors who say that if they could just get their name in print, they’d feel successful. Many of them do get their books published and when I talk to them, they often admit that they still don’t feel like a “successful author.”

I think that’s because our definition of success changes as we reach each new level in our lives. What we thought would make us feel like a success five or ten years ago may not make us feel successful today.

That’s why I decided to take a little time to think about what true success is and what it means. 

1)      To be successful means that I have done my best. If I have done all I can, expressed the truth as clearly as I am able and honored God by giving whatever I am working on my all, then I  can see what I've done as being successful. I'm not asked to measure by the world’s standards, but by God’s standards…and doing my best to use the talent God has given me is the beginning of success.

2)      To be successful means that I have exercised my creative talent. We are made in the image and likeness of a creative God. When we are creating, be it a painting, a garden or educating children, we are being like our God…which is what we are called to do in all things.

3)      To be successful means that I have done my part to bring about knowledge, insight, and love to further the Kingdom in earth.  

I'm not sure that I can say I've actually done these things, but this year I am going to make a more concerted effort to try, because although it's terribly tempting, when I measure my success only in economic terms, I fall short of what our God has in mind for me. 

I remind myself that St. Francis de Sales’ famous book, “Invitation to the Devout Life” was written for a small, private audience and yet it continues to inspire thousands every year. The letters of the Little Flower were written only because her superior told her to and with no expectation that anyone outside the convent would ever read them. Yet those same letters were instrumental in having St. Therese of Lisieux named a Doctor of the Church and in creating a new way of looking at God’s love and mercy.

...but I still wouldn't mind having a best seller!