Friday, July 24, 2009

In Search of Self

This is what it's all about. This is why we are here, this is what we should be doing, this is at least one of our goals in this lifetime. This is one of the features that is implanted in each and every one of us, it is an intrinsic part of what makes us human - the need to know who we really are, and hopefully to find some semblance of that person. Is it possible to find the real me in there? I don't know. But I sure need to try. And the truth is I haven't the first clue what the 'real' me even looks like – one of the casualties of living amongst humanity for all these years. We lose ourselves, or disown ourselves, or kill ourselves or have ourselves killed by somebody else. However it happens to play out.

What do I mean by this? We live our lives to please others. We learn to live, we learn to function in this lifetime in such a way that fits in with what others want, with the way others think it should be, with that which suits the lifestyle of those around us. And the person that doesn't let this happen is a rarity indeed.

Who do I mean by 'others'? Well first of all our parents because let's face it, we're at their mercy. They are our everything when we're born and through the first years of our lives and for some even longer than that. We are, as children, completely dependent on them, physically, emotionally, financially, intellectually. And so in our desperate attempt to maintain connection with them, and because they are adults and we're not we place ourselves at their mercy, knowing no other way. This is normal human development and no secrets here. For the record a second intrinsic part of being human is the need for connection with other human beings and by connection I don't mean casual interaction but rather deep and intimate knowing but that's another topic for another time. I'll get there.

But… and this is a big but, in the process of trying to maintain that all-important connection with others we lose ourselves. We learn what we need to do, how we need to function, what we need to be in the service of maintaining that connection with those individuals and in the process we suppress, deny, relinquish our own needs, our own likes, dislikes, skills, creativity. We become what those around us instruct us to become.

Until one day in whatever form it comes upon us we start breaking down. One thing I have learned, we cannot deny all aspects of ourselves and not suffer some consequences. Whether it comes in the form of depression, addiction, chronic physical or emotional pain, anger, sadness, whatever, we will suffer the consequences. When we are not true to ourselves, to what we are truly meant to be we cannot expect to function in such a way that is optimum for us.

And so begins the search. A long, arduous, confusing search for what is meant to be.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

How Do We Love?

How do you love someone in this lifetime? I mean that most sincerely. How do we, as fallible human beings in a fallible world yet still possessing those qualities that define us as made in the image of God, learn how to love someone the way we were meant to love someone. In other words how do we love another in such a way that reflects the image of God?

God loves perfectly which tells me that somehow, someday we too will be able to love perfectly and sometimes I think that maybe, just maybe we have the ability in this lifetime to exhibit perfect love, if maybe only just for fleeting moments.

How do I, as an imperfect human being yet still made in the image of God manage to offer myself up to someone else in love and manage to accept that other's love for myself so that we can both be in this relationship built on the very definition of perfect love? I don't know how to do it without it going wrong.

How do we relinquish our own fears of the pain involved in loving someone? And love always, always involves pain. How do we get past the fear of the pain in order to open ourselves to giving love and being loved instead of letting that fear of pain close us off to the experience and possibilities of that love?

Or how do we do this without it turning into selfishness and possessiveness? I think an aspect of perfect love is allowing freedom to both people involved in the relationship. It involves loving this person in such a way that you're willing to be without them – if only for a time, and trusting that they will come back to you instead of holding on so tightly thereby controlling and restricting that freedom.

It would be easy to just say to all of this "we can't", not in this lifetime and maybe that's true. But the problem is we are all wired from our very core, from our very soul, to need this and so this response of "we can't" only frustrates us. Knowing (or thinking) that we can't doesn't stop the need and so what do we do about that?

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


Is it true that joy cannot come without pain? I think it may be. I had wondered lately what is joy? I can honestly say that I did not know. Maybe that's kind of sad – I suppose because not knowing equates to never having had the experience of joy but it's the truth and I would be willing to bet that it's the truth for most people. I think in general we expect that joy is some state of intense happiness but this I believe is false.

God speaks to me. I know this and yet I struggle to find the words to explain. And He speaks to me a lot. I know this because I now know things that have originated from deep within myself and therefore cannot possibly have come from anywhere else but from Him. We have established a connection He and I and through this connection I am coming to learn the true meaning of intimacy and I am quite by accident coming to learn the true meaning of joy. It is not happiness or rather while there may be moments of good feelings in the emerging recognition of joy it is not by any means pure happiness as we define happy. Far from it, I would hesitantly say that joy involves more pain and frustration and desire... most certainly desire.

Longfellow writes of it in his poem My Lost Youth describing his experience as he revisits his boyhood home. We all know this, it's a longing, a desire for what once was, for something deep within ourselves that we cannot grasp:

And Deering's Woods are fresh and fair,
And with joy that is almost pain
My heart goes back to wander there,
And among the dreams of the days that were,
I find my lost youth again.
And the strange and beautiful song,
The groves are repeating it still:
"A boy's will is the wind's will,
And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts."

And there is mystery involved in joy, how could it be otherwise when speaking of the Divine? A frustrating sort of mystery to be sure but also a welcome mystery. In my search for God, in my continual questioning of Him I have come to realize that I am loath to give up the mystery that would result by finding all the answers to all my questions. A real catch-22. I have questions, I want answers but I don't want to lose the mystery that is inherent to life, not that I really think there's any chance of that. Because one of the basic mysteries of life is that there is more to know than can ever possibly be known by any human being due to the finite state of our humanity.

My question today is whether or not joy can come without pain and I think not, a paradox of life that the two are woven together and cannot be separate when joy is the leading aspect. And I think that joy is deep desire and discovery shrouded in mystery and darkness and that it comes only in relation to, in response from, only through contact with God. It comes in the recognition of our connectedness to God. Fleeting moments of connection with Him in the deepest part of our soul. The Joy is experienced in the small, fragile glimpses of recognition of Him and the pain comes with our inability to grasp Him fully.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Infused Contemplation (or God 101)

I am just a regular girl. I'm in my forties like a million other regular girls out there (alright so maybe I don't actually qualify as a 'girl' anymore). I have a house in a regular town, I go to the regular grocery store, I go to the recycling center on Saturdays, I pay the regular bills, I drive a regular car, I make a regular salary at a regular software development job. As I said, regular. I was baptized and raised in the Catholic Church but as soon as I was old enough to have worn my parents out with my disinterest in the whole thing I stopped going to church which happened around the age of 15. And I didn't go back for years, like for 30 years. I have a husband and a child and none of us was getting up early on Sunday to get ready for church. We had better things to do like cut the grass, ride the bikes, wash the cars, watch football. Like all the regular Sunday things that all of the other regular people out there do on a Sunday.

The following is a description of 'Infused Contemplation' as defined by Thomas Merton in his book 'The Inner Experience':

"Contemplation is a supernatural love and knowledge of God, simple and obscure, infused by Him into the summit of the soul, giving it a direct and experimental contact with Him… It is a gift of God that absolutely transcends all the natural capacities of the soul and which no man can acquire by an effort of his own… in other words God is manifesting Himself…"

That is a composite of several paragraphs from The Inner Experience but it essentially gets the point across.

Here's the thing, I know what this means… from a personal point of view. Which is to say I know what it means from experience, because I am currently (clearly it's not a one time and then over thing) in the process of experiencing it for lack of a better way to say it. I know it sounds 'out there' and every day I think to myself at some point "I must be nuts, this cannot be real, this doesn't happen to regular people - monks, nuns, priests, shamans, buddhas maybe but not regular people who have to clean their own toilets and eat hamburgers and drink beer." Although to be fair I suppose monks probably clean their own toilets.

And I can see now that it's been going on for a number of years, in the form of a rather slow, arduous and painful spiritual awakening. I cannot think of another way to say it. I see things now, I know things now that I never knew before and that did not come from some external source e.g. a book, another person but this knowledge, these things which I know now to be true, I can sense that they are true, they come from somewhere within me, a place that I cannot pinpoint it's just there. Again, I know this sounds out there but it's been too long and has happened too frequently and its come to the point where I'd be a fool to deny it. I would also go out on a limb whereby I could even say that God and I speak to each other. Daily. I speak to Him and He speaks back to me. There are a hundred ways in which this happens so I'll not go into details but I know, I know that it's Him and I know that this happens. And I'm just a regular girl who likes to ride my bike and play softball and sit on the beach in the summer.

And here's one of the hardest parts - there is nobody for me to talk to about this. I am ensconced in the 'regular' world, some might call it the 'secular' world. I put these things in quotation marks because I also now know that there is no dividing line between the spiritual and secular world. We have done that ourselves, placed this imaginary line between the two but God doesn't just play in what we would call the 'spiritual' world. I'm here to tell you that He shows up in the secular world also.

And this is just about the loneliest thing that can happen to a regular person. I mean let's face it there's not a lot of God talk happening during a town recreational league softball game. Oh sure there are a lot of great books out there written by the great spiritual masters, St. John of the Cross comes to mind, and I've read some of them but they all seem to have one thing in common: they all seem to be written from the perspective of the previously 'religious' person. So does a 'Dark Night of the Soul' only happen to Trappist monks and Carmelite nuns? Must I be a Ph. D in Christian (insert any religion here) philosophy and mysticism before God will sweep in and do His thing, work His wonders on me? You might be tempted to think so after reading some of these texts. At least that's my impression. Perhaps in my ignorance I have completely missed something and if so believe me I'd love to know.

And the fact is that if I ever tried to bring this up with any of my friends they'd look at me like I had lost my mind, an unfortunate by-product of living a regular life in the regular world. Seriously, they'd think I'd gone over the edge.

Anyway over the past couple of years I've been keeping a journal which has evolved really into my daily prayer, my daily discussions with God, my struggle to understand what's going on and just a place to put all of these new thoughts down on paper and I'll tell you it's been a huge help. So during today's entry I realized something. I think maybe it's harder for us regular people because we have nobody to turn to. We're not steeped in theology, we're not surrounded by people who have either been through this before or at least have read about it and can perhaps provide some cursory guidance. And as a result of this I think we flounder around in even more obscurity because there is nobody to explain to us what's going on and what we might do about it (which essentially amounts to not much but that's not what this post is about).

And so I thought to myself well maybe I could write that text. Maybe I could be that regular person who turns into the one Supreme Spiritual 'Master' out there sitting on the mountaintop in my robe and shaved head who when asked all of the deep and dark questions about the meaning of life by some poor regular girl or guy who is going through this and is groping around in the dark for he or she knows not what, perhaps I can be the one to say "I don't have the first idea what it's all about and I know exactly how you feel and I haven't got any answers for you except to say I know how hard it is and I know how lonely it is and I'm stumbling around in the dark just like the rest of you poor, dumb bastards".

Because that would be the truth.

But maybe that's the help that comes. Maybe the help comes in the form of knowing that there are others like me out there who truly understand because they've been through it also, and they have survived or at least are surviving. Maybe for awhile (or for the rest of this life) that's all some of us ever get, I don't know. But it is an incredibly lonely place and I wish there were people out there close to me who were talking about it.

God asks a lot of us. This I now also know to be true.