Posts Tagged ‘spirituality’

Finding Peace, Not Popularity

Saturday, September 14th, 2013

To one degree or another, trying to be “popular” has been an issue my whole life. I’m sure many can relate to this struggle, which usually begins around the time the honeymoon of childhood morphs into the agonizing self-consciousness of adolescence. I’ll never forget how it felt to panic about who I’d sit with at lunch or on the bus, or if anyone would be my science lab partner. Then there was the humiliation of being a “leftover” after everyone else had paired off. Somehow I had missed the lessons on how to look, how to dress, and most important of all, how to be “cool.” Anyway, how could I be cool when I was too paralyzed with shyness to even speak most of the time? My mind talked plenty, though, constantly reminding me I was a loser and that everyone around me knew it.

I felt alone and trapped in a cruel and miserable pecking order system favoring those unselfconscious enough to talk and laugh with their peers, yet insensitive enough to put down those who couldn’t. Today, the situation has a name: bullying. As far as I’m concerned, even identifying the behavior and the harm it can cause are huge steps forward in social progress.

Does being a sensitive person make one more likely to be teased, or is it the teasing that causes one to become sensitive? However it works, this negative cycle results in those most vulnerable being attacked, which to them is a nightmare of low self-esteem coming true. The obsession to fit in, and the resulting humiliation of perceived failure, is enough to create a permanent shift in a person’s brain, enough to push many over the precipice into some very dark places: suicide, addiction, unhealthy choices in relationships, and a host of other self-defeating coping mechanisms.

And if one survives being unpopular past high school, it’s not as though the damage magically disappears, either. For some victims, the core belief that they are somehow inadequate or not as lovable as others remains deeply buried, but at the same time manifests in just about everything they say and do, including the circumstances and people they attract to their lives.

Beyond the teenage years, the battle to feel worthy wages on, just in different arenas. It can be seen in cutthroat office politics, where not only status, but the ability to support oneself, are at stake. It can be felt within communities, where being “better than” is measured in wealth, education, politics, and ethnicity. The assumption is that if you have more money, power, material possessions, etc., you are somehow superior to, smarter, and more “together” than those with less.

Here in the digital age, the quest for approval is obvious on Facebook and other social networking sites, where the winners are those with the greatest number of “friends,” “followers,” or level of response to their posts. In a computerized society, it’s easier to represent yourself as someone you’re not, and thus increase your perceived status. It’s also easier, however, to hurt another’s feelings when you don’t have to personally witness the pain you cause another human across cyberspace.

In my own case, the abusive and dysfunctional environment of grades four through twelve, coupled with denial and further criticism at home, almost caused me to end my life at a young age. But taking on an overeating addiction basically rescued me, saving me from having to feel those emotions I basically had no ability to face at that time. Addictions do serve a purpose as a survival mechanism…unfortunately, they themselves can kill the very life they seek to protect.

There is hope, however. Even people like me who’ve suffered permanent disability to their self-esteem – be it from bullying or anything else – have a real opportunity to come out of this experience not only intact, but even better, perhaps, than they might have been without the trauma. The journey starts with basic endurance – bearing the discomfort of our own thoughts and feelings just for this day – but with honesty and the willingness to get help and work on our issues, leads to a softer place of healing. In this peaceful place, we love ourselves, our emotions, and our lives exactly as they are, no matter what anyone else thinks about us.

Having lived through the stigma of unpopularity (and barely, I admit), I like to think that my ordeal might help others having similar troubles. Low self-esteem is not exactly rare among humankind, so in my view, anyone with understanding, experience, and hope can be of great use. Focusing on replacing negative attitudes with positive ones has become my life-long challenge…and honestly, it can sometimes be a minute-to-minute battle.

Recent circumstances in my family have forced me to take another up-close look at how approval or disapproval from others affects peoples’ feelings about themselves. Much as I had hoped that the ghosts of middle school were long gone, they have returned now that the same damn thing is acutely affecting people I love. Fortunately, the solid growth I’ve had as a result of confronting myself and my attitudes has made the issue far less intimidating to deal with as it comes up in family members, reminding me to be grateful for the progress I’ve made in replacing those old, sick beliefs.

Here are my new beliefs: we are all worthy, no matter our flaws, deficiencies, or defects, and we will see our intrinsic value if we are willing to look for answers inside, instead of outside us, and grow along a path guided by the forces of goodness and love. Give those forces whatever name you want.

It’s really just as simple as that.

I wish I could say the journey on this path was simple, but I’d be lying. Sometimes it’s agonizing, confusing, and in my own case, fraught with my mistakes and shortcomings. But persistence is powerful…picture a leaf floating on the surface of a stream that is tossed about by eddies, rocks, and powerful currents, but still winds up moving downriver. Never forget that those healing forces guiding us are much stronger than we are, and they will push us along and give us rest when we need it.

When We “Lose” In Love, Have We Really Lost?

Saturday, August 4th, 2012

Most of us have had our hearts “broken” by a failed romance, some of us many times over. That special someone – the person with whom you shared your secret self, your problems and successes, your dreams, your feelings, your body, maybe even your living space – is gone. What we thought would never, ever happen while we reveled in the ecstasy of deep love and trust, has indeed come about and ripped us away from our beloved. It seems surreal, like a nightmare being played out in front of us. We think, how could this have happened? I thought he or she loved me! How could this person betray me, hurt me, and worst of all, abandon me, for reasons I can’t control or even understand?

In our grief, we cry and ponder what could have been. If only… she hadn’t cheated with someone else, he hadn’t been addicted to drugs, she hadn’t been afraid of commitment, he had treated me better, she hadn’t had baggage from her past that prevented us from getting closer, and on and on. With tightly-closed throats and stinging eyes that finally burst tears, we feel immersed in acute pain that seems to come from some unknown space between our brain and heart. What we had is gone. Something precious has been lost to us, something we wanted and believed in and were grateful for, even if we didn’t realize it before. Loss. Its sadness is unmerciful, its longing for a different outcome overwhelming and unrelenting. How, we think, can we possibly go on?

Terrible as this experience can be, we can and will survive. Fortunately, we have a safety net that is always there, one which never, ever abandons or betrays. God. For those of us aware, God was the One who created our loving feelings in the first place. What a privilege, what a “piece of heaven” to feel that much love for another! It is time to be grateful that we were able to experience this, no matter how it turned out in the end.

Romantic love and intimacy are special gifts from our Creator, a tiny glimpse of the ecstasy we will find in trusting Him with all our needs. Graced with the close, wonderful feelings, the joy, the sense of communion with another, we need to remember that these sensations existed within us. They were and are part of us, whether or not their target was able to return them.

In thinking about relationships, spiritual and emotional maturity demands that love not only be expressed in words, but in actions. When our partner’s actions don’t match our instinctual sense of the supportive, nurturing, gentle, thoughtful nature of real love, we are aware of this on some level. It may take awhile for us to become truly conscious of the lack of consistency between our partner’s words and actions – our own emotions can blind us for awhile – but eventually, the pain catches up to us. No one of us wants to face the possibility of a loss of love, the possibility that the other person either cannot or will not be able to reflect our love back to us in its original, intense, selfless, beautiful form.

But in the end, and no matter how long we try to push it away, the limitations of our partner and their effects on the relationship become undeniable. This is the point at which we are forced to make an agonizing decision. Can we live with our beloved’s shortcomings, whatever they are? We absolutely cannot change someone else, and trying to negotiate their limitations is basically fruitless. Ultimately, the choice to be in the relationship – or not – is our responsibility. What do we want for ourselves? Conflicting feelings of pain and longing can make this decision seem impossible. At this point, think about that safety net: the sure guidance and comfort of God, Who has been loving and helping us all along (whether we knew it or not). By turning to this Source of all love, we are strengthened to take care of ourselves. There really is no earthly hurt or dire situation that cannot be handled for you by God.

Nothing happens by accident. If your “romantic ideal” lets you down in a way you cannot accept, try to see this as an indication that something better is planned for you. Be grateful for “better,” which means something more fulfilling and more satisfying is waiting for you. The door is open now. All that caring, happiness, physical and emotional ecstasy, closeness – they are not lost when their particular object disappears for some reason. They are still there inside you, part of your wonderfulness. You do not have to grieve their loss, because they are within you like a light that shines no matter how dark it is outside. Remember this!

Loving helps you to grow, but losing love can help you grow even more. If you can understand this on a deep level, with the awareness that an ever-caring God is handling all the details of your life, you will walk forward with courage, faith, confidence, compassion, and forgiveness. You will love again.

Being Sensitive in an Insensitive World

Saturday, March 24th, 2012

Do you sometimes think you get your feelings hurt too easily? Would you describe yourself as a little – or maybe a lot – sensitive? If so, I can relate! Well do I know the agony of having someone hit me with cruel words or reckless criticism, watching much-anticipated plans fall through, being let down by a friend, or not getting something I was hoping for or thought I deserved. Ouch! I want to back away, isolate myself, get angry, cry perhaps, and lick my wounds. Then I berate myself for taking things so hard, for being “so damn sensitive.” After all, sensitivity means weakness, right?

Being touchy like this certainly makes a person prone to getting hurt by others and the world, at high risk for suffering pain in all its excruciating extremes. And who wants that? I have learned from my experience as a fairly thin-skinned person, however, that I make things infinitely harder when I criticize myself for being that vulnerable in the first place. Wishing my eyes were blue instead of their actual hazel color doesn’t change the fact. And in the same way, wanting to be less sensitive than I am is nothing more than an avoidance of reality.

When I’m harsh and judgmental with myself about this personality trait – sensitivity – honestly looking at my reactions and feelings is nearly impossible. The brutal inner critic takes over… Why do I have to get so emotional about that? I shouldn’t care so much. I’m overreacting. I’m being childish. This doesn’t bother other people, so there must be something wrong with me because I’m upset. And on it goes, with my peace of mind spiraling downward.

It’s enough! These kinds of thoughts just sabotage me by pulling me away from acceptance and from taking responsibility for myself. Now when I sense myself going down this road, I pause and take a self-caring breath. What is bothering me, and why? If I do some self-examination about the source of my hurt feelings, I can learn a lot! Sometimes I am reacting to something in the present that subconsciously reminds me of a troubling situation from my past. Or perhaps I’m exploding over one issue, but my melt-down is just a “symptom” of difficulties I’m having in one or more other areas of my life. Sometimes I need to look at what my expectations were regarding whatever is bothering me – were they reasonable? In every instance where I find myself disturbed, I’m either losing something I have, or being deprived of something I want. Trying to identify what was or is at stake leads me more quickly to accepting my feelings.

Digging a bit to get to the root of my “hot buttons,” if you will, is a compassionate approach that gives me new information about myself. Not only that, it’s the first step to healing from the pain. Taking a close look at and becoming aware of why certain people or circumstances affect me so strongly can give me insight, help me notice patterns, and hopefully lead to talking about what I uncover with myself, God, and someone I trust. By being gentler with myself, I can lessen my distress immediately; and if I’m patient, it’s possible for me to stop reacting negatively altogether. It takes some work, but wholeness and calm will ultimately replace the angst.

Over my many years of being a sensitive person, I’ve come to see that my reactions – particularly the upsetting ones – present opportunities for personal growth. Obviously no one likes pain, but I’ve learned that until I’m able to really feel it and take an honest look at it, it keeps repeating itself in situation after situation, and with person after person.

Ironically, by acknowledging and being more tolerant of my vulnerable side, I’ve actually become less sensitive. But I know I’ll probably always have this tendency; it’s a part of my nature, after all. Changing my attitude towards this trait has helped tremendously, though. Stop and consider that sensitive people are some of the most loving and creative individuals in the world! With the ability to experience all of life with extra “intensity,” they perceive themselves and the world around them with greater depth and awareness. And because they have generally suffered more, sensitive people possess greater understanding and compassion towards others in pain.

My lesson from being sensitive is that the more comfortable I am with this part of myself, the less it presents problems in my life. I believe this generally holds true for most characteristics we wish we didn’t have. The more quickly I can accept myself right now – with my positive traits as well as my defects – the faster I can move past the issues that cause me misery.

Be cautioned, however, this kind of growth – which is really the process of developing a healthy love of self – takes courage and the willingness to feel some discomfort. In my own case, I’ve never been able to do it by myself. It’s way more than my ego can handle, I’m afraid. So I rely on a Source that has far more power, One whose strength and love are basically guaranteed every second – God. With help like that, things about me that once seemed like total liabilities turn into blessings of self-discovery and growth. After all my struggles in this area, I am rewarded by seeing miraculous improvement in my attitudes and behavior. Truly, I’m even beginning to think being sensitive is one of my best qualities!

Soul Hunger

Tuesday, February 28th, 2012
Evening comes early on this gray, cold, and rainy day. I can hear it. The steady, hushed patter of raindrops hitting the pavement outside. Some are lightly slapping the leaves of trees near my window. It’s a comforting sound, quiet and consistent and natural. I imagine sitting under the eaves, wrapped in a warm, dry blanket. I am listening to the drops; feeling and breathing the cool, moist air; smelling the fragrance of the soil and plants and pavement mixing with the water. I could sit for hours like this…

Except that I cannot, because life’s demands and responsibilities don’t allow such immobility for long. Or perhaps I don’t allow myself this time – I am programmed to complete, to accomplish, to produce, to resolve.

This robotic state of productivity, however, can only continue for so long until my soul becomes tired and hungry. Hungry for union with my mystical, ever-present, ever-caring Source. The One that makes the rain and earth it falls upon; including the small birds that hide cleverly under leaves and intertwining branches. I know they’re there. I want to sit with them and be as they are: silent and watchful as God speaks in the gentle language of the rain. It is, for me, a compelling invitation to think; to be embraced in security which the world can never provide; to be part of a goodness more vast than even human love.

We are all like those little birds and animals that bow to the larger forces, taking shelter from the rain and hopefully listening for the eternal.

It is in these soothing, peaceful, warmly-wrapped moments that my empty soul is fed. Connection to the spiritual is as vital to me as rain is to all life’s creation. Let me dwell here until I am full, and thank my Creator for His bountiful whispers of love. They are always there, waiting for me to become quiet enough to hear them. Hunger feels raw and bleak and painful, but I know it is a true gift. If I did not have it, I would not seek the only thing that can fill it.

Where Does Love Go?

Sunday, January 15th, 2012

Ah, love. Sweet, pure, healing, spiritual…we can’t see it with our eyes, we can’t touch it with our fingertips, and yet it is unquestionably there. It stirs somewhere between my head and chest when I see a fellow human suffering – hold my baby in my arms for the very first time – watch the figure of my lover walking toward me smiling – behold a problem solved or pain erased without my effort.

Such a beautiful and real thing is love. Probably its most wondrous quality is that it usually is focused on another person or object, seeking to bless the other as much as it does me. Thus, love is a gift that spreads outward and can transform both the giver and recipient. Precious and seemingly so fragile, but able to withstand and endure great strain, great sacrifice.

Sadly though, the gift of love – the source of which can only be God – can cause great pain. We give our love to the wrong person, who spits it back because they can’t or won’t embrace it. It seems to disappear into a bottomless pit, fruitless and unreturned. The daughter who rejects my love because she is lost on her own journey. The friends who can’t appreciate it because they’ve never truly recognized it in themselves. Those people who accept my love, but cannot reciprocate because of their slavery to other forces like drugs or money or sex. Tragically, we have all had our love declined at times.

Having my feelings be rejected is traumatic, certainly. Depending on the intensity of affection I’ve given or tried to give, having it refused or misused is capable of rendering knife-like damage to my emotions. Unreturned love is not a new phenomenon to me, yet on every occasion it occurs, the pain feels as fresh and keen as if I were a baby being slapped or hollered at for the first time. Sometimes the agony feels so overwhelming, I wonder if I’ll ever be able to love again.

But I know also that to love or not is my choice.

After each debacle in this regard, the same question comes into my mind: what happens to the love I feel – so intensely sometimes, it almost is palpable – that is rejected, unrequited, spurned? Does it simply die like unpicked fruit withering on a vine? Or does it live on somewhere in my soul’s deep recesses, out of view and out of thought? Does it drift upward, back to God, who created it in first place? Where does all this “wasted” love go? Is there some emotional stock-pile where it’s “archived” for posterity? Or is it deposited into a spiritual landfill of sorts, where it’s layered over with denial, anger, and fear, until it can’t be seen or touched without some in-depth digging? The question comes to me, back and back and back.

Obviously, this is one of those questions with no answer… Or perhaps everyone’s answer is different. For me, I like to believe that no love is ever wasted. Every time I love someone or something, regardless of what happens or does not happen as a result of that love, I am changed in a positive way. My emotional range is widened; my soul expanded by this miraculously selfless feeling. I become a more understanding and compassionate person. To know love is, to me, getting a glimpse of God. And if I am hurt as a result of that love, God sends His grace to soften the blow, as well as another big portion of love to keep for myself this time. Because at that point, I need it to heal my own wounds.

This is why, no matter how many times I’ve “loved and lost,” I’ll not shut down my heart, nor close myself off from loving again. It’s always worth it, whatever the cost or consequence. In fact, for me it’s a necessity to stay alive as a whole human being. I know that ultimately, any love I can feel – even if it doesn’t come back to me from a person – has somehow made me better, made me just a little bit more of a reflection of its Source.

Writing For Me

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

For me, writing is not merely an instrument of communication. It goes far deeper than that. Writing is the bridge between my internal life and the outside world, both the means to an end as well as the end itself. Sometimes I wish I could make up amazing stories, but honestly, I find reality much more compelling. Thus the plot is ordinary, but my thoughts and attitudes about what exists around me can be complex, deep-seated, and ever-changing.  And hopefully evocative to some readers to see the mundane in the light of their own inner uniqueness. All becomes so much more precious and beautiful that way.

Words are my paint, paper my canvas. Sometimes I see something so striking and appealing, or ugly and disturbing, that I simply must talk about it pen-in-hand. This I try to do in my way, using language to basically describe and clarify first, then to embellish. It’s not much different from the painter who builds a picture, using white and pastels to highlight and draw the eye’s attention, darker colors to subdue or convey a mood. It is all art, which seeks to affect in some way the people that can appreciate its message.

Yes, I write for a living, so my skill with words and language also has many practical applications. Creativity is one trait I claim, but I also crave organization, so my business report and marketing writing allows me the opportunity to exercise that. Or exorcise, as I’m often like one possessed when it comes to correct grammar, spelling, and word usage. I don’t know many people who proofread their text messages before hitting “send,” but I admit I am one of them.

Making a clear picture from ideas, paragraphs, sentences, and words fulfills me the way it does when I clean out a drawer. I throw out the things that are worthless and unnecessary, and try to put the valuable items in their proper place. Writing for business is a form requiring directness, with less need for description and creative embellishment. In this respect, it can be easier to compose. On the other hand, some business writing, such as marketing or resumes, necessitates specific and at times subtle use of language to glorify the subject and persuade the reader that they need to procure it no matter the cost.

But by far the most personal and necessary use of writing in my life has been to express my mental, emotional, and spiritual condition. Perhaps it is because I’ve been doing this for so long – I’ve kept a journal since I was in my teens – that writing has become almost inseparable from who I am. There have been times, and still are, when my notebook is my always-available confidante, one that doesn’t judge what I reveal nor how I say it. Generally, the only descriptive verbiage I use in this writing is four-letter words. And lots of exclamation points.

Honestly, writing in my journal is a spiritual experience for me, because when I’m spilling my guts on paper, I’m aware that God is reading it. (Duh! Who do I think put the feelings and expressive words there in the first place?) Although I don’t understand how this happens, I get greater acceptance of all those feelings, both difficult and joyful, after I write about them. And if God and I can stomach all that crowds my head, it becomes more likely to me that other people will not be put off by it either.

Considering all the above, writing helps me to survive on many levels: financially, artistically, emotionally, and spiritually. A means not only to survive, but to thrive and grow. Although it has its challenges and frustrations, writing gives back to me according to the effort I put into it. Like so many things in life, practice is the key. Thankfully, I love to practice!

Proven over and over to me, however, is that my life is better the more I write. Or perhaps the better my life is, the more I am writing. At this point, it doesn’t matter because it is all good. And I want to write all about it.