a blog for 21st century Seekers
Silence. Solitude. Stillness.
To some, these elements sound like a dream come true; to others, a nightmare.
For the last four years, I've been treating myself to a solo silent retreat in a small hermitage cabin at a retreat center to take time for deep rest, rejuvenation, reflection, and meditation, and prayer. I've found this time to be essential to finding mental and emotional clarity and discernment amidst my otherwise noisy, fast paced, distracted life. While I have a rhythm of self care and spiritual practice at home, there is something so different about being away from my house, from people, and from technology. Going on retreats keeps me honest with myself and rekindles my relationship with my Higher Power.
I've had so many people ask me, "How do you do it? I would go crazy all alone by myself for that long! What do you do with all that time?" Well, nothing really. And, a lot. So for those of you who are considering a personal retreat, but have some anxieties around it, this list of tips and tricks is for you.
Tip #1: Practice
While everyone can benefit from solo retreats, they aren't for everyone, at least not right away. It's the kind of thing you should work your way up to. Just like other types of exercise, you need to start small and increase your reps. If you try to just jump in and bench press 300 pounds without any preparation, you're going to injure yourself. It's the same with just jumping into a 3 day retreat without already having a toolkit of spiritual practices under your belt. A good way to jumpstart your practice is to first participate in a facilitated retreat with a group of people. Even if it's a silent retreat, having other people around you doing the same things builds a feeling of support and community, and having a structured schedule that includes guided prayer/reflection/meditation activities is really helpful.
You can also work your way up to solo retreating by taking yourself out on "dates" to begin to practice enjoying your own company. This could look like going for a hike by yourself, taking yourself out to a movie or dinner, spending an afternoon at the local park or coffee shop, going ice skating, or any other thing you enjoy. The key is to stay off your phone. You wouldn't be on your phone the whole time with a date, so don't do it with yourself. Be present to yourself. The only guarantee in this life is that the person you're going to wake up with every morning for the rest of your life is you. So start befriending yourself--you're worth it!
Tip #2: Scheduling
Once you have decided you're ready to try a solo retreat, it's time to pick the time and place. I suggest reserving a "hermitage" cabin at a retreat center. These cabins are set up for solo retreaters and are designed in such a way that they promote stillness, silence, and solitude. The intentionality of the design and the seclusion of the cabin will help you settle into "retreat mode" quicker. For your first time, I suggest spending two nights away. I've found it is crucial to have one entire day away in order to really rest and slow the mind down. I've found that on the last morning, my mind is already thinking ahead to what I have to do when I get home and starts planning for the upcoming week. It's very difficult to be fully present unless you have a full day of freedom; a full day away from the check lists and responsibilities of everyday life.
Don't schedule to arrive home late at night and then have to go straight to work the next morning. It is nice to ease out of your retreat by giving yourself plenty of time when you get home to unpack, do laundry, go grocery shopping, etc so that your transition back to the daily grind isn't as shocking.
Tip #3: Packing
There can be a temptation to overpack, but the goal of retreat is simplicity. Bring the minimum amount of clothing needed, no make up, no jewelry- no one is watching you. Let the image-making rest.
Leave your novels (or other books with a story line) at home. Novels are a great escape, but the goal of retreat is to practice Presence, not distraction. There are some books that can help bring us into a stance of deep Contemplation, and these are great retreat companions-- scripture, poetry, or other spiritual writings can help our mind find a place of quiet and deeper understanding.
I also love to bring along some "spiritual toys" such as my finger labyrinth, a deck of wisdom/art/tarot cards to reflect on, a chime/singing bowl, mala meditation beads, some visual icons that hold special significance to me, a yoga mat, meditation cushion, journal, sketch pad and colored pencils.
Also bring along whatever items you need to get out into nature- hiking boots, sunscreen, hat, gloves, etc. The temperature was around 0 degrees on my last retreat, and there was a foot of freshly fallen snow. Since I was prepared with all my warmest winter gear, I was still able to spend an hour or more outside each day walking through the woods, making snow angels, and bird watching. Never underestimate the healing power of nature and exercise, even when it's freezing out!
Tip #4: Upon Arrival
Once you've checked into your cabin, take some time to set up your stuff, finding a proper place to keep each of your things. You'll want to keep your small space organized and neat throughout your stay, remembering that a cluttered space promotes a cluttered mind.
Reflect ahead of time what you're committing to as far as phone usage. I highly suggest turning your phone off and leaving it in your car so you aren't tempted to start checking your phone, sending unnecessary texts, or getting lost in the rabbit hole of the internet. If you're using your phone as a camera, set it on airplane mode so it's only functioning as a camera. If you absolutely need to be communicating with family each day, just check your phone at night right before going to bed. But if you can, tell your family/friends that you'll be unavailable until you return home. This removes the distraction of needing to be constantly available and distracted. In today's world, it is a radical and incredible challenge to disconnect from technology, but the stillness of mind that results from this move is so worth it. It creates space for insights to arise and allows the mind/heart to start connecting the "dots" of our life.
So you're here. Now what?? I've found that one of the best ways to ease into a weekend of silence and solitude is by pulling out my journal and doing a "mind dump." This is just a stream-of-consciousness free write, where I put down on paper all the things on my mind that I'm worried about. This helps me note that there is a lot of stress that is truly hard to set aside, but if I acknowledge it in this concrete way, it helps me feel secure that I can set these things aside and they'll still be waiting for me when I return home. But for the next 48 hours, there is nothing that needs to be done or accomplished. I can truly let them go, and Be Here Now. In this mind dump writing exercise, it's nice to also set some intentions for the retreat, and I like to address all of this as a letter to my Higher Power. In this way, I'm establishing the conversation and relationship with God, and is a wonderful reminder that I'm actually not alone on this retreat-- I'm supported and loved by this ultimate Friend. This makes the solitude feel like a refuge instead of a prison.
Tip #5: "Goals" of Presence and Letting Go
In our culture, there is such pressure to do, to perform, to accomplish. Retreat is a time to let all of that go and practice a stance of Being. To just be is a revolutionary act, and a difficult one. On retreat, we leave our check lists behind and attempt to tune into our intuition, and to follow this instead of following distraction. Even without technology, our minds find a way to distract, to spiral off into worries or fantasies about the future, or into replays or regrets from the past. Our practice is to notice this, and keep bringing the mind back to what is real right here and now. What are you seeing, touching, hearing? As you eat, what textures and tastes are present? Can I practice gratitude for all of these things in the moment as I experience them? Can I let go of my need to accomplish something with this time? Can I let go of my self image and personality and listen to the deeper, higher Self stirring within?
From an Enneagram perspective, each of the types has a particular way of staying attached to our False Self (our habits of personality). Author and teacher Christopher Heuertz says that each of the Enneagram "Centers" has a particular need for either Stillness, Solitude, or Silence. When Body Center types (8,9,1) are forced to slow down and be still, their anger is waiting for them right under the surface. These types are always on the go, and all the movement is a distraction from having to look at their anger. This is why retreat can be so uncomfortable if we haven't already practiced observing ourselves and detaching from our feelings and thoughts. But this is why the Stillness of retreat is also essential to seeing what is going on with us, facing it head on, and working through it. The only way out is through, as they say, and this takes courage and diligence. It is only in intentional Stillness that Body Center types will find the peaceful rest of Acceptance, and be able to connect with their innate goodness and innocence.
For types in the Heart Center (2,3,4) the key healing element of retreat is Solitude. Heart types are constantly creating their self image in relation to the feedback they get from other people. When these types of people find themselves alone, it can be difficult to know who they actually are, or to get in touch with their true feelings and desires. For Heart types, the underlying emotion waiting for them in solitude is shame, since they find their sense of worth through either helping others, impressing others, or distinguishing themselves as different from others. It is only in Solitude that these types can discover their True Selves, and find an inner validation and self approval, as well as the sustaining and unconditional love from the Source of Love.
Head Center types (5,6,7) are so constantly stimulated by the noise of mental chatter and incoming information, that the healing medicine they will find in retreat is Silence. Once the outside noise of internet searches, documentaries, podcasts, books and stimulating activities is shut down, Head types are confronted with their underlying feeling of fear and anxiety. But it is only in this Silence, free from grasping at solutions to an unanswerable puzzle, that Head types will discover that they are safe, already have enough and already are enough. They will find true freedom in the presence of a deep inner knowing.
As difficult emotions and thoughts arise during retreat, our goal is to remain present to them, to approach them with a sense of curiosity and compassion, to investigate, and finally, to let go. Activities that can help with this process are: meditation, focusing on breathing or body sensations, prayer, mantra, chanting/singing, journaling, writing letters to your Higher Power, drawing pictures, writing letters to your inner child, dancing, yoga, stretching, getting out into nature. Remember that no mind-state or emotion lasts forever, and this too shall pass.
Tip #6: Expect the Best and Remain Open
While I've tried to prepare you for the worst, you might be surprised to discover a lot of joy, relief, gratitude, insight, healing, and contentment waiting for you on retreat. The last retreat I went on, I added an extra day. The first whole day felt like a lot of "work." It was difficult, and there was a lot of emotional and intuitional content to sort through. Once I got through this, the next full day was a day of pure bliss. With nothing to do, nowhere to be, and no one watching, my inner child was free to roam, rest, and kick up a wild rumpus! I cheated on the Silence rule, and used my phone to play a downloaded dance playlist, and danced wildly for about 2 hours straight. I'm discovering that what I personally need for my healing is a relief from rules.
So go ahead, make your retreat your own. As far as my suggestions go, take what you like and leave the rest. If you bring your Higher Power into the process and remain willing and open to the possibilities, you are sure to be surprised in a beautiful way. I hope you can learn to savor the healing gifts of Stillness, Solitude, and Silence, in whatever way is meaningful and accessible to you. Happy retreating!!
For many of us, it can be difficult to find our Enneagram type accurately. Oftentimes, the biggest mistake is that people will look at the stereotypical behavior of each type and focus on that. For example, "I worry a lot so I must be a six." Or, "I have always been drawn to art, so I'm a four." "I go to a lot of protests, so I've narrowed it down to 8, 9, or 1!" "I love to read and am a deep thinker. I've gotta be a five!"
Unfortunately, it's not that simple. The Enneagram is unique in that, unlike other personality typing systems, it is based on motivations, not behaviors. Each type has a specific "Passion" (emotional pattern of suffering) and a specific "Virtue" (emotional gift), a predictable "Fixation" (mental trap of the ego), and a unique "Holy Idea" (the mind's beautiful consciousness when in a grounded and accepting state.) All of these are sooooooo helpful and fascinating, but the part of Enneagram teaching that I resonate with the most is the teaching on each type's "Lost Childhood Message."
Each of us as children, at some point, began to interpret a fundamental flaw about ourselves. The innocence is lost, fear sets in, and we begin basing all our choices around this delusional perception. It isn't necessarily our caregiver's fault, but we may react to their Shadow and interpret it in a certain way as a coping mechanism to feel safe and loved. The messages are called "lost" because we had them at some point. For example, an Enneagram One's lost childhood message is "You are good." When this message gets lost, it becomes the opposite belief that "I am bad/corrupt/evil." As a baby and young child, of course Ones were pure and good. But Ones as children typically feel criticized, not good enough, and punished for mistakes or for expressing emotion, so the ego develops a fixation between right/wrong, good/bad, because she is trying so hard to avoid mistakes and maintain control. Because she has lost touch with the inherent birthright of being good, in the back of her mind, she's always anxious about doing something wrong that would define her as corrupt, bad, or evil. For any Enneagram One to begin her path back toward wholeness and healing, she needs to reclaim the truth that "I am good."
Here is the list of Lost Childhood Messages. Every one of them is a message for all of us, but one of them in particular is at the core of our ego's motivations. This piece of the Enneagram can shine much needed light on our type and on the direction of our growth path.
1- "I am good." - - Interpreted as "I am evil/corrupt/bad. I need to stay on the straight and narrow to avoid
the slippery slope! My moral superiority proves my goodness."
2- "I am lovable" -- Interpreted as "I am only lovable when I'm helping others, when I'm needed. I've gotta
give more to prove my lovability!"
3- "I am capable" -- Interpreted as "I am only lovable and valuable when I'm accomplishing
great things! Proving my capabilities will bring me the love and attention I desire."
4- "I belong" - - Interpreted as "I don't belong. I am different from everyone else and no one understands
me. I will prove that I belong by making myself noticeably special to draw love toward me,
and by withdrawing into my inner world of feelings and fantasy."
5- "I am enough." -- Interpreted as "I am not enough to gain love and security on my own, so I'll spend my
energy gathering knowledge and ideas, and detaching from others and my feelings. This
proves my competence, my enough-ness."
6- "I am safe." - - Interpreted as "I am in danger. Life and people are unpredictable. My defense against
harm is doubting and questioning, even doubting my own instincts and inner guidance. By
preparing for the worst, I will prove that I'm protected."
7- "I am free." - - Interpreted as "I could be trapped! Best to avoid this by becoming self reliant and
focusing on all my positive options and creating pleasurable experiences! Keeping the
Fun-pedal to the metal proves that I am free!!"
8- "I can be vulnerable"- - "I mustn't show weakness, only Power! Emotions, tenderness, and quietness are
weakness and weakness gets you hurt. I'll make myself as big as possible to protect myself
(and others). My strength, productivity, energy, volume, and fast pace prove my Power."
9- "I matter." - - Interpreted as "My presence doesn't matter. My feelings and needs are unimportant, so I'll
keep a low profile and merge with others. I cannot affect change. Making others feel
comfortable and keeping the peace proves that I matter."
Each of these Lost Childhood messages is incredibly heartbreaking, and also incredibly ironic. How could Nines believe they don't matter? We all love them in their natural gifts of sweetness, inclusion, and peacekeeping, and when they are absent we miss them like crazy. How could Threes be worried about proving their capability, when none of the rest of us could ever keep up with their positive energy, confidence, and enthusiasm? Why would eights hide their tender side, when their big hearts are what make them so darn lovable? They don't need to prove they are powerful, because even when sitting in silence we would feel the strength emanating from an Eight!
We are all striving for something we believe is lost about ourselves, but it turns out we have just lost sight of it! It never went anywhere! It was there waiting for us all along, under layers of stories, delusions, fears, greed, and anger. If only we could see ourselves the way our true friends see us, the way our pets see us, the way The Divine sees us. We are seen as good, lovable, capable, belonging, enough, safe, free, with permission to be vulnerable, and that we matter, SO MUCH. Not only are we seen as each of these things, we are each of these things, because they are our birthright.
Now, repeating these messages to ourselves and keeping compassionate eyes on this birthright, we can use the other tools and insights of the Enneagram to carry us back "Home" to our True Selves.
If you know your Enneagram type, I'd love to hear from you, either in the comments below or through a private message, how your Lost Message shows up as a motivator in your life, in either its negative or positive form. What have you done that has been helpful in convincing yourself to reclaim this message?
I just made this painting for my nephew's 4th birthday, to be read to him each night before bed, in the hopes that the lies and delusions won't penetrate so deeply. He will, of course, still develop an Enneagram type (thankfully!) but perhaps this will serve to guide him back Home quicker than would otherwise be the case. Happy Birthday Ethan!!!
P.S. If you would like me to make one of these paintings for a child (or adult!!) that you love, let me know, and I'll pray for them the whole time I'm painting. Also, check out my new Custom Paintings page!
Happy Fall everyone! May this season bring you inspiration, guidance, and time for contemplation!
Generosity does not come easily to me, at least not as something freely given. I tend to subconsciously expect something in return, which is not true generosity. I grew up in a family that was always doing service. My dad would pick up people on the street holding cardboard signs and bring them home to give them some work around the yard. My mom was always volunteering at some place or another, and they always, always gave 10% of their income to the church or charitable organizations.
So it is not a surprise that as I grew up, I also jumped into this way of being. And yet, for me somehow, there was a certain sense of obligation around giving; a feeling of guilt if I wasn’t giving enough. Even though my giving is usually confidential and private, my conscience ragged on me. There is a pervasive and desperate sense that it’s up to me to save the world through my contributions, both through financial gifts and through the giving of my time and talents. To this day, I give away more money than I put into savings. In fact, I never even had a consistent and official savings account until last week. Somehow, I got the memo that generosity toward myself was selfish, unnecessary, and, well, unspiritual.
And then I started going to Common Ground Meditation Center. There, the attitude toward giving is one that comes from a place of true generosity, one that is about mutual benefit, joy, and freedom. The word for this in the Pali language spoken by the Buddha is Dana. From the start, I felt that this was a true invitation to practice generosity, which to me meant it didn’t have to be perfect from the start, that I could experiment with the amount, frequency, and method of giving to find what makes the most sense for me. And I feel permission to keep changing this indefinitely, depending on the circumstances of my life.
One of the most beneficial practices I’ve learned from the Buddhist tradition is the practice of Lovingkindness meditation, and its sister practices of Compassion, Appreciative Joy, and Equanimity. To me, all of these beautiful states of the heart are connected to generosity, because they demonstrate the boundless, abundant nature of things. Noticing and changing my mentality of scarcity has been a big part of my journey related to money and time. When I can bring in kindness and compassion toward myself and others, it creates space to look at my life through a more realistic and objective lens. I needn’t be so attached to my identities as a “giver,” a “saver,” or a “frugal person.” I can set that all aside, and really feel into what makes me happy.
Last week I was biking, when a car cut into the bike lane directly ahead of me to be able to speed past the cars in front of him. My normal, past habitual reaction would have been to shout obscenities and feel tension and anger in my body for a good ten minutes at least, if not for the next several hours. Instead I was shocked and delighted to hear the words that flew out of my mouth without thinking. I shouted at him, “Oh, Dear One!” giggled, then let it go. It was a moment of spontaneous generosity. Seemingly inconsequential, I knew this moment was an outward expression of a long, inward process of a softening heart. This is only one example of how my practice of meditation is benefitting me. I am much less angry, reactive, controlling, vindictive, isolated, or anxious, to name a few.
Last week, as I was reviewing my finances, I decided to start making regular recurring payments to Common Ground. In the next breath, I also decided to start making regular, recurring payments to myself in a new savings account. Both of those decisions gave me a deep sense of contentment. The formal practice of Lovingkindness gave me permission to be generous and loving toward myself, not only others. Common Ground and the teachings of the Buddha have given me so much over the years, and I’m so incredibly grateful for the slow but steady transformation happening within me.
I invite you to consider what has changed in you over the years and what or who has helped you grow. Really take a moment to feel gratitude for this.
Is there a joyful way of giving back with which you might experiment?
What talents or time do you have available that might be used to bring others joy, and in turn bring yourself joy?
In what ways can you be more generous and loving toward yourself?
When people ask me what the Enneagram is, I am immediately elated and nervous to give an explanation, because it feels like introducing them to a best friend who has saved my life. Any “elevator speech” is incomplete, and even a dissertation would still miss the mark, because this dynamic spiritual tool interacts with each person in a unique and individual way. My story will not be the same as your story, but our common humanity of brokenness, possibility, and innate hidden wholeness guarantees that this tool has something life changing for everyone. Let me (begin) to explain, and tell a bit of how the Enneagram has made me a kinder, wiser, and healthier human.
First, an overview.
The Enneagram is an ancient personality typing system that is unique among its peers. While other systems put you in a box and leave you there, the Enneagram shows you all the parts of your “box” that you’ve been living in (even the parts that are subconscious and denied), and then gives you a path of transformation and healing to move outside of the box of your habitual thoughts, feelings, and actions. It can do this because the Enneagram looks at the motivations of each type, instead of the observable behaviors. It also shows us both our Light and Shadow sides, our “blessings and blights” as teacher Ian Cron likes to say. In its wisdom, the Enneagram shows us that “our personality type is not who we are, but instead what keeps us from being who we are.” (Quote from teacher Anne Muree). It points toward ego structure. However, it is a non-dualistic system (like any healthy spirituality), and includes this paradox: it also shows us exactly who we could be, and provides a path to our True Self/Essence (as opposed to our False Self/ego).
The Enneagram has nine personality types, which are actually habits and coping mechanisms built up over time in an attempt to feel safe, secure, loved, respected, in control, and happy. Each of these “programs for happiness” work for us for a time...until they don’t. They end up getting us into trouble, again, and again... and again. We get frustrated with ourselves, feeling defective, angry, ashamed, and afraid. (e.g. What is wrong with me that I just can’t seem to change?? I intend to stop reacting to people and situations in this way, but I just can’t stop myself!! I guess I’ll just have to suffer like this the rest of my life. Poor me, no one understands me!)
Here’s where the Enneagram steps in with the radical introduction to CHOICE. As the late and brilliant Enneagram master teacher Don Riso used to say, “It doesn’t have to be this way!” My own genius teacher Anne Muree says (and I paraphrase), “The Enneagram is about LOVE and CHOICE, and they are right around the corner from one another. First we choose to love ourselves. Then we love ourselves enough to make different choices. And through these healthier choices, our love for ourselves and others grows.”
I will give one example from my own life in how this process has unfolded for me.
I am a Type One on the Enneagram, which sometimes gets called the Perfectionist or the Reformer (both labels were easy for me to claim, even before I had much self awareness.). With a constant focus on what can be improved, Ones have a deep drive to make ourselves better, to improve and maximize others potential, and make the world a better place. Those are all great things, until we overdo them. As teacher Suzanne Stabile points out, “The best part of you is also the worst part of you.” And believe me, all my efforts to perfect myself, others, and the world led me into a place of dissatisfaction, frustration, and a near constant state of resentment toward others.
The funny thing about it, in hindsight, is that I never recognized myself as an angry person, even though I was walking around with irritation simmering right under the surface of my “good girl” facade at all times. Resentment was just the water I was swimming in. I’m sure others could see and feel it, and that’s why the people I loved avoided controversial topics with me, because I would always turn it into a black/white, right/wrong argument, and I had to be right. I always got the last word in order to fuel my sense of goodness and purity (a.k.a self righteousness). For example, when I couldn’t convince my father that his politics were wrong, I resorted to writing snarky counter-arguments in his political books while home on breaks from college. While that never changed him, it made me feel like I’d done my duty in setting the "truth" straight. I had still won. (But this was extremely damaging to our relationship, obviously).
Some of you may be wondering why I’m being so hard on myself. I’m not. It’s just the pure, unadulterated truth. After a lifetime of powerful denial, I’ve finally learned to trust that only the Truth will set me free. After years of working on this, I don’t feel much emotion in the re-telling of my version of insanity. If anything, it’s humorous to me. I’ve finally stopped trying to control things I cannot change. I’m also finding a sense of compassion for myself, for all the suffering I have created, for how difficult I’ve made my life out to be. That is completely new to me. My version of ego has always believed that self criticism and reprimand would be what would eventually whip me into spiritual shape, but thank goodness for the Enneagram, Love has now been given the decisive voice (on my good days!).
One more quick story.
I used to feel that anger was the only fuel that could keep me going. It was the motivation to make a difference in the world. This is the rhetoric in many activist circles, and even within many religions who speak of a righteous anger. While I would never say that this is completely untrue or that anger has no value, I know that anger was robbing me of sleep, shaming me into feeling like I could never measure up to its high bar, and causing pain and tension in my body, particularly in my jaw, neck, and shoulders.
I remember distinctly the first time I reacted to injustice with compassion instead of rage. I was traveling in the West Bank of Palestine, and parts of Israel, listening to people’s stories from both sides of the conflict. While I had very strong opinions about the devastation of genocide, military occupation, imprisonment of children, and the system of apartheid going on there, I suddenly knew with clarity that anger and hatred were not going to help. Only compassion for everyone involved (including the brainwashed oppressors!) was going to end this conflict. If I wanted the people there to love and understand each other, I couldn't ask of them something I was unwilling or unable to do myself. On that trip, I began to experiment with the possibility that Love was actually a powerful force for change, not a wimpy or fluffy emotion for pushovers.
When all is said and done, the Enneagram helps each of the nine types find their own much needed compassion for self and others. As a One, I happen to be in the “anger triad” along with Eights and Nines, and only compassion and kindness can counter this toxic reaction in our bodies. There are three types that find themselves in the “shame triad” and the last three types are found within the “fear triad.” For all of us, whether anger, fear, or shame is our go-to motivator, we can do better for ourselves and others. And compassion is the path for us all.
We are all doing the best we can with what we’ve been given, at all times. Only self acceptance, loving encouragement, and self awareness can move us toward greater freedom and toward our True Self.
If you have not looked into the Enneagram, but feel ready to face your "demons" and be given guidance to defeat them, I recommend reading the book “The Road Back to You” to help you discover your type. There are also trained Enneagram coaches (such as myself!) who can help you through this self discovery process, starting with a typing interview. For some people, finding your type can be difficult and may take some time. But it is worth it! Blessings on your Enneagram journey.
With deep compassion,
With the deluge of social media posts using #Metoo, women are hoping that men will finally understand that sexual assault and harassment happen to us on the daily. Perhaps they will wake up to the fear that women have internalized and had to accept as "normal." Thankfully, I have not (thus far) experienced the horror of rape or physical assault. I have, however, experienced harassment as regular as sneezes during allergy season. Think I’m exaggerating? Think again. Here’s a (partial!) list of my experiences:
~ After hitting puberty, I wore baggy pants and large shirts for 15 years in an attempt to keep roaming eyes and inappropriate comments away from me. It didn’t work. So I chopped off all my hair, and lots of people assumed I was a lesbian. It still didn’t work.
~ I bike everywhere, as opposed to taking public transit, because it has reduced the amount of street harassment I experience by about 90%. My bike makes me feel safe and free. However, there are still plenty of guys who shout at me while I’m riding past, “Hey girl, ride that bike a little slower for me!” or “Damn, girl! You look good on that bike!” or the classic dog whistle followed by “Hey girl, come back here and go on a ride with me!” Sigh...
~ I used to ride public transit for three years, and I was sexually harassed every day, often multiple times a day while waiting at the bus stop. Everyone wanted my phone number, and everyone had comments about my ass or my weight. One stranger walked up and said, “Ooo, I really want to suck on those sexy toes,” and I was even solicited twice for prostitution (while fully covered and wearing baggy clothes, breaking out in profuse acne, and sporting dirty dreadlocks. In case you were wondering, it’s not about what she wears.) Everyday before leaving the house I took deep breaths and prepared a response to this verbal abuse. Hyper vigilance became the norm.
~ I once had a van full of men try to kidnap me on a Sunday morning at 10am. They used a woman to try to lure me inside by having her ask me for directions. Luckily, my intuition told me to run right before the guy tried to reach out and grab me, and I was close enough to my church to find Sanctuary.
~ I got a dog for many reasons, one of them being so that I could walk alone around my neighborhood and feel a little safer. Even though I trust Chancho would try to protect me, I always bring my wallet with me when I walk, because I know I could end up dead and pantless in a country ditch somewhere and I want my ID there to make the identification process quicker. This thought feels quite casual, as it is routine. “Keys? Check. Phone? Check. Wallet-in-case-I get-raped-and-die? Check. All right Chancho, let’s go!”
~ I have been dumped because I didn’t wear tight enough pants. I have been dumped because I was “too old to be a virgin” at age 23. I have had a partner not believe that my “no” actually meant “no.” I have found out 5 times that the guy I thought I was dating actually had another real girlfriend, and I was just for fun. I have been cheated on in a committed partnership twice. Every day it’s a struggle to convince myself that I am good enough, and that I deserve respect. Not because I’m some man’s sister or daughter, but because I am a human being worthy of respect. It’s hard to feel worthy and whole some days when my experience keeps telling me otherwise.
Men, if you’re looking for a place to start contributing to the solution, stop calling grown women “girls.”
Girls = Children. This automatically implies that we are less intelligent, need to be disciplined, and don’t know what’s good for us. (If you’re wondering when to start calling us women, how about at age 21 when we are legal adults? Better yet, once girls hit puberty, start calling them “young women” as an added nod of respect.)
Men, also practice this line so you’re ready the next time you overhear another man harassing a woman or even talking disrespectfully about her when she’s not there (e.g. How fine her ass is). If you’re wondering if this is a big enough deal to address in the moment, it is. “Locker room talk” and “boys being boys” is how the culture lays the framework for women to become second class humans. Here’s your line, regardless of the situation:
“Stop degrading women. I don’t like it and nobody likes it. Show some respect.”
If they come back at you with some “your such a pussy” crap, just repeat your line, broken record style until they hear you. You will be our hero!
“Boys will be boys” is only one part of our cultural problem. Of the many contributing factors, the Church has played a huge role by CENSORING THE HOLY SPIRIT’S GENDER. (That was in all caps so you don’t miss the significance of the violence toward women in this intentional political move.) Long story short, the early Christians all believed that the Holy Spirit, the Mother of all Creation, Lady Wisdom, was in fact, well, a lady. She brings balance to the otherwise male Trinity. Father, Son, and Mother. Because, duh, nobody comes into existence without a mother.
The Hebrew word for Spirit is Ru’ah which is feminine. When it got translated into Greek, it became Pneuma, which is gender neutral. Finally, by the time the Roman Empire co-opted Christianity for its own political purposes of power and control in the 4th century, Her name gets translated into Latin as Espiritu Sancto. Male.
Many early Christians were adamant about keeping the integrity of the Divine Mother, and so in Latin they always said Espirita Sancta (Female), because the language allows for that. The Empire tortured Christians who refused to call the Holy Spirit male. Whole churches of faithful Mother worshippers were burned alive inside their churches, thrown into the colosseum, or otherwise murdered by the Roman army because they refused to say "Espiritu Sancto." There were likely as many female priestesses and apostles as there were men, and a shit-ton of men were putting their lives on the line for these powerful women leaders.
So what’s the big deal? Why would so many thousands of early Christians not budge on one little gender pronoun, to the point that they gave up their lives to defend this? The answer lies in the way the early Church conducted their community. They truly believed in an equal society where “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus,” (Galatians 3:28). Stop for a moment and let that sink in. That is a group of badass radicals who are bucking the system and saying “NO MORE!” to any form of hierarchy. They knew that if the Holy Spirit lost Her gender, all women would lose their respect and sacredness within the Church! And they were right. We did.
For the last 1500 years, women have had to bow down to an exclusively male God. We have been going to church and never seeing ourselves as included in that select circle of holiness. We could never have the option of being sacred like men. Men had been going to church for 1500 years and having the privilege of looking at Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and having the warm fuzzy feeling that they were looking in the mirror, that they were good and lovable because they were made in God’s image. They also internalized that women were unholy, unclean, and unworthy, apart from the image of God. Men belonged in the circle of God’s trinitarian love. Women did not. Hearing all male pronouns and metaphors over and over drove this home to the point of defeat and degradation. (e.g. Lord, Prince of Peace, King of Kings, Father God, The Son, etc).
The Holy Spirit Mother, Ru’ah, Shekina, the First and Primal Force of all Creation, Espirita Sancta, Divine Lady Wisdom is calling us to bring her back from the grave where the Empire-Church buried her. She has been slandered, harassed, abused, mocked, degraded, and worst of all, erased. She is crying out with all the hurting women of the world, #Metoo!! #Metoo!! She is calling to all women (yes, including, and perhaps especially, trans women) to rediscover our sacred holiness, to reconnect with and love our bodies, to bring our unique and necessary healing power into the world!
The Holy Spirit Mother is calling to all the men of the world to get to know her, to bring her back from the dead! To find healing in her gentle and magnificent Love! To find their own gentleness and forgiveness. To find the courage and ferocity of a protective MamaBear, to channel the Divine Mother when they are called as men to stand up to violence against women.
Please, for the sake of all women, for trans and non-binary people, don’t mis-gender our Mother. For the sake of all men who need permission and encouragement to connect with their holy “feminine” qualities, please don’t mis-gender our Mother. Please, for the sake of the world, for the sake of balance and peace, stop mis-gendering our Mother.
Photo: 7th c. Bavarian Christian fresco of the Trinity, with the Holy Mother in the Middle.
There are times when the natural Wisdom within us arises to meet the moment in ways we never could have orchestrated if we were lost in thought, lost in thinking about right and wrong, "shoulds" and "should-nots." In these moments, our head, heart, and body are aligned. They are in the same place.
Before I'm tempted to wax poetic about something that can't actually be explained, let's just stop and have an illustrative story.
The last time I visited my brother and his family in Washington DC, I took a solo day trip to Georgetown. While there are hundreds of fancy restaurants, boutiques, and art galleries in this gentrified neighborhood, I was attracted to Georgetown's Waterfront Park along the Potomac River because I discovered it had a large public labyrinth.
Now, you must understand that I LOVE labyrinths. I've had so many powerful prayer experiences using this ancient tool, so I immediately hyped up my upcoming labyrinth walk in my mind, hoping (expecting?) that it would be deep and soul shaking. But would I be able to find an intimate experience with my spirit, with The Spirit, in a public park? Would people be staring at me while I slowly walked round and round, wondering if I'm mentally ill? Doesn't matter. Gotta give it a try anyway.
When I arrived at the park on a Tuesday morning, it was fairly quiet. Whew, just what I needed. I stood at the entrance to the labyrinth, took three deep breaths, asked the Spirit to join me, and began my walk. While it was a nice meditation, and I was aware of my movements, of my self consciousness, and of my thoughts, nothing profound was happening. I determined that when I got to the middle, I would sit down and meditate and pray until some insight was gained. (For those who have never walked a labyrinth, it is not a maze, but a winding and unpredictable path that inevitably leads you into the center. This center represents the deepest part of ourself, our Essence, and the path can represent the twists and turns of our life that eventually lead us to God, to Love, to Freedom.)
I arrived at the center and sat down, lotus style, and prepared myself for my message. Waited. Nothing was happening. Or so I thought. What had happened, unnoticed by my ego which had an agenda, was that a spacious clarity had opened up inside of me and was ready to greet whatever reality arrived with an open mind and heart.
Then it came. Or more, accurately they came. 30 little humans, ages one to three, were unleashed by their daycare provider to run amok inside the labyrinth. My first split second reaction was mortification. How could those adults see someone who is obviously meditating and then purposely surround them with the most distracting thing possible: adorable children!? But immediately following that was an inner gentleness toward my anger. "It's ok. This is the message. Be Here Now. Meet the moment with gladness, no matter how it presents itself." When this Wisdom arose in me, I didn't feel I controlled it, conjured it, or had any choice in the matter. It was just time to live this moment with love.
Suddenly the joyous squeals of the children chasing each other was music to my ears. I opened my eyes and the smile radiating from my face was genuine and unstoppable. A few of the tykes waddled up to me and began chatting in indistinguishable toddler language. Some gave me high fives with no words exchanged. My heart felt like it was exploding with love and gratitude. I continued sitting, swirling in a sea of innocence. Eventually, they toddled on in a line after their teacher and I was left alone to marvel at the surprise gift God had in store for me.
Before the kiddos arrived, what I perceived as "nothing" happening was actually the beautiful emptiness of a non-judging mind and heart. I was being prepped to receive a moment of spontaneity, in going with the flow, and finding ease and peace in having my plans interrupted. In the Buddhist tradition, this is known as Buddha knowing Dhamma, expressing Sangha. In other words, this is when that open, non-judging spaciousness inside of us that is always available (Buddha) meets the present moment as it is (Dhamma), and then is able to, from this enlightened space, take right and action (Sangha). When we are fully alive and awake, we see reality (whether it is the pain of the world or the joy of the world) and intuitively know the appropriate response.
We know when we are in this space, and we recognize when others are acting from this space. Some people these days call it being "in the flow." It's that moment when, without effort, we respond wisely to whatever arises, and it feels and looks beautiful. When we know how much to let up, let go, or lean in. When we speak truth to power, when we have the right words to solve conflict with our parents or partner. The key thing to notice about these moments is that they are pure Grace. We don't need to try to do the right thing, and yet the right thing flows naturally from that deep place of Presence. Our Essence already knows how to be wise. We would do well to stop striving toward self improvement, and instead let go and let our natural, innate Wisdom take the reins. Giddyup!
When have you noticed a moment of easeful Wisdom in action from yourself?
When have you witnessed this kind action flowing from others?
Are there places or activities that frequently foster this deep Knowing in you?
Share a quick story in the comments below!
I don't know about ya'll, but I have never felt so justified in hating others as I have in the last 6 months. The things being done to and said about fellow human beings in the name of "security" and "free speech" are appalling.
So naturally, when NeoNazis, Klan members, and other white supremacist hate groups gather in Charlottesville, it is our civic and human duty to gather and show them that we can meet their hate with more hate, their ignorance with self righteous indignation!
*Record scratch* Wait, hold up.
Of course there is a call, a rallying cry to stand up for justice, equality, and equal rights for all! Of course we must show up when hatred rears its ugly head and we must say "NO." But is meeting the "enemy" with hatred and scorn necessary for effective action? Is shouting and name-calling and swinging a bigger stick the missing ingredient for the recipe toward peace?
Obviously, the question is rhetorical. So why is it so hard to remove ourselves from the cycle of violence?
For me, the answer is slowing gaining clarity. We do not yet fully trust that love and compassion can be an equally strong force in this world. Anger is motivating. It gives us a charge of energy that can be felt coursing through the body. Our heart rate accelerates, body temperature rises, adrenaline surges. On the surface, it seems the perfect activist fuel to fight the powers that be, to stick it to the Man! How could piddly ol' Love possibly compare to the motivating power of anger and hate, of being against something?
If you're anything like me, this is where the line of reasoning usually stops, and we just go on with our thoughts, comments, and actions as usual (e.g. they suck, you're stupid, the world is f---ed). Thankfully, on my good days, I can recall the higher truths from the great Teachers. Let's start with the Buddha, when he says,
"In this world
Hate never yet dispelled hate.
Only love dispels hate.
This is the law,
Ancient and inexhaustible."
Never?? C'mon Mr. Buddha, isn't that hyperbole? Surely hatred has some role to play in our collective human evolution. Besides, anger just feels good, so it must be good....right?
The point here is that meeting hatred with hatred (a.k.a. revenge) sets us into motion in an ongoing cycle of suffering. If we closely examine our lives, this becomes obvious. When I spend most of my interior energy on reliving the hurt and pain inflicted upon me and imagining the ways my oppressor will suffer, I immediately enter the cycle of suffering. The truth that is often missed here is that even if I don't ever verbalize or act on my anger, I still enter the cycle of suffering because in my angry rumination, I become miserable. I feel trapped and on fire. It's not pleasant. There is no value added to my life or the lives of those around me.
Luckily, there is an alternative. That is solution-based thinking. Thinking, speaking, and acting with love. Love can also be a very motivating force. Consider for a moment a parent's fierce and protective love for their child. Consider the way they understand where their child's pain is coming from, even when the child is hurting them. This love is consistent, persistent, and undying. It is strong and filled with compassion. We all have access to this type of motivating love for others, if we can slow down enough to understand the "other."
This is a perfect time to consider another amazing teacher, Jesus of Nazareth. He says,
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’
But I tell you, do not resist an evil person.
If anyone slaps you on the right cheek,
turn to them the other cheek also."
Let's imagine for a moment that Homeboy was being literal. Someone, in an impulsive and angry fit, slaps you across the face. If you were to slap them back, we all know what would happen: at worst, a full-out brawl ending in death, or, at best, an angry exchange of words ending in the two of you storming off in a huff, likely never to speak to each other again.
Now let's re-live the scene. Someone, in an impulsive and angry fit, slaps you across the face. You remain silent and wait for them to hit you again. At worst, the person is still seeing red and slaps you again. At best, they hesitate because this pause has given them the time to think, to feel guilty, to notice your humanity. They don't hit you again. (If they did slap you twice, they would naturally pause after the second hit if they were met with silence).
Of course, this metaphor of the other cheek works on a personal level as well as a societal one. Jesus understood on a deep level that ancient and inexhaustible law that hate has never yet dispelled hate. It's just never worth it to hit back. It only makes things worse. This is why he didn't defend himself as he was being mocked, whipped, and eventually executed. He knew that only love dispels hate.
Might this inexhaustible law also apply to us in 21st century America? Love need not be silent. Love need not roll over and just "take it." Love, in all its wisdom and creativity, can speak Truth to power. Love can unite the masses. Love can connect us across borders, political boundaries, racial lines, and religions. So as the world rages on and ramps up, may we take pause to reflect on our anger. But only as long as is needed before we act in Love and in Power! For here is our final vision:
"They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore."
How will we ever get there, if not by Love?
I've been reflecting on why I love Spiritual Direction so much, in both the giving and receiving.
What could possibly be so special about repeatedly sitting across from another person and sharing the inner workings of our heart and mind? How can slow conversation, interrupted by periods of silence, be exciting? Can meeting with someone for one hour a month actually be transformative and healing? Isn't intimate, vulnerable sharing awkward and dangerous?
These are questions that may come up after hearing a description of spiritual direction (click here if you don't know what spiritual direction is).
At the core of my answers to all of these legitimate questions is the experience that this relational spiritual practice is subversive and life changing. It is subversive in that:
Spiritual Direction is not tied to a particular institution, theology, or religion.
Spiritual Direction can be traced back to some badass characters who came to be known as the "Desert Fathers and Mothers." These were early Christians interested in actually practicing the teachings and lifestyle of Jesus of Nazareth. When the church became The Church of the Roman Empire, tied to hierarchical systems of power, oppression, and control, these women and men ditched the now "official" religion. They set up tents in the desert where they prayed, meditated, fasted, and studied. Eventually, people started coming to them with spiritual questions and concerns because, as it turns out, sitting in silent prayer and meditation has a tendency to cultivate wisdom. (Go figure!)
The beauty of the practice of spiritual direction is that the "directee" (a.k.a. the client/seeker) gets to guide the conversation, using their own terms for God/Mystery/Spirit/Universe, and approach whichever topics they choose. This is not limited to "spiritual" things such as concepts of God or religious topics, but instead can be any issue in a person's life (e.g. relationships, doubts and questions, trauma, career discernment, grief, family estrangement, body image, sexuality, gender identity, etc!) The directee need not worry about the director imposing their beliefs or theology on them because the director's role is actually NON-directive. (Say WHAT? Come again?) Yes, a Spiritual Director does not actually direct another person's spiritual path. There's a word for that. It's called manipulation. Instead, the director points the other person toward the real director in their life: That Mysterious Spirit that can only be felt and experienced, never fully explained.
Now that's subversive -Being given permission to experience your Higher Power instead of being given a set of dogma, rules, or concepts of God that don't work for you!
Insert personal anecdote: When I started meeting with my spiritual director 9 years ago, I trusted her because I could tell she was not married to a limited version of God or traditional spiritual practices. She was quirky and out-of-the-box, to say the least. Many of my struggles at that time were related to the church. I now have a term for my experience: religious trauma. For this reason, I would never have sought out a pastor to talk to. I needed someone whose experience and training was from outside the seminary so that I could feel safe.
Spiritual Direction includes and honors the body as part of spiritual practice.
In the west, we have a tendency to get locked into our thoughts, disregarding the messages sent by the body. Spiritual direction values all parts of us: Mind, spirit, emotions, and body. It all matters. It's all connected. Wholistic spiritual health cannot be achieved when we neglect such a large portion of the human experience.
Insert personal anecdote: I sought out my spiritual director because she was the first person I'd ever encountered who used the words "spirituality and sexuality" in the same sentence, and in a positive way! The first several years of our work together were largely about unlocking the trauma lodged in my body and mind around issues of sexuality. I learned how to listen to the messages my body was sending me about captivity and liberation, self respect and self love and self expression. Thanks be to God! And thanks be to my spiritual director for providing the loving, nonjudgmental, non-anxious, and encouraging environment in which I could undergo this healing process!
Spiritual Direction subverts our habits that lead to suffering.
Self-criticism, resentment, revenge, anxiety, restlessness, anger, fear, shame, doubt, laziness, numbing out...these are all habits with which most humans can relate. Oftentimes we just settle for these states of being because we don't actually believe we can change, aren't willing to put in the footwork, or are not even aware when we are stuck in them. The practice of sitting with a spiritual director is a great opportunity to "zoom in" on our patterns. In what ways are these habits benefitting me? (They must be beneficial in some way if I keep coming back to them). Together we question if these patterns of operating are actually adding value to my life and the life of others. Through deep and persistent soul searching, we can find our underlying motivations, and discover healthy alternatives and freedoms we never imagined were available to us. This difficult yet rewarding work is truly counter-cultural. Just take a look at the people in prominent positions of politics and entertainment, or puruse social media for a few minutes to discover that self awareness, reflection, and compassion are undervalued in our society.
Insert personal anecdote: I am a perfectionistic personality. While this has served me in some ways (creating great art work, getting all A's in classes) it has also harmed me and others in many ways. My high expectations can lead to intense self criticism, self righteousness, procrastination, resentment, and disappointment. When I've taken the time to recognize and deeply examine this personality trait, at some point I became sick of it instead of indulging in it. I could see that the costs outweighed the benefits. While this tendency still arises in me, I now have the awareness to notice it in the moment, pause and reflect, surrender my impossible expectations and will to my Higher Power, and choose to act from a more realistic and compassionate place. This is but one example of the inner shifts that have come to fruition as a result of my time spent in spiritual direction. As a result, I feel much more happy, whole, and free to be my beautiful/imperfect self!
So there you have it. Spiritual Direction is a subversive underground movement, carried through the centuries by Christian monastics, which is now breaking into the mainstream. It's time has come. It is my hope that this practice spreads into all corners of our culture, both inside formal religions and out.
The Peaceful Rebellion has arrived!!
I'm a Spiritual Director, Enneagram Educator, and Liberationist-Buddhist-Universalist-Mystic-12 step-Queer-Christian. Playing with questions, answers, and surrender.