Category Archives: Inquiry

Groundhogs and Goddesses: Reclaiming Lent

Groundhog!

Groundhog!

Groundhog Day

Celebrate this unlikely oracle,     this ball of fat and fur,              whom we so mysteriously endow with the power to predict spring.                                        Let’s hear it for the improbable heroes who,                      frightened at their own shadows,  nonetheless unwittingly work miracles.

Why shouldn’t we believe
this peculiar rodent holds power
over sun and seasons in his stubby paw?
Who says that God is all grandeur and glory?

Unnoticed in the earth, worms
are busily, brainlessly, tilling the soil.
Field mice, all unthinking, have scattered
seeds that will take root and grow.
Grape hyacinths, against all reason,
have been holding up green shoots beneath the snow.
How do you think spring arrives?
There is nothing quieter, nothing
more secret, miraculous, mundane.
Do you want to play your part
in bringing it to birth? Nothing simpler.
Find a spot not too far from the ground
and wait.

~Lynn Ungar

Happy Groundhog Day! Today is also the Feast of the Presentation and Candlemas. Yesterday was both Imbolc and Brigid’s Day. February 1st and 2nd are thin places in the year’s cycle, rich with ancient energy. The Celtic Goddess Brigid comes together with a pesty rodent, Jesus’s presentation in the temple, and candle blessings at a party that celebrates lambing and other signs of Spring. Rock on!

Imbolc is one of the Celtic “cross-quarter days.” Cross-quarter days occur halfway between the sun’s solstices and equinoxes, and Imbolc is the halfway point between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. The ancient festival’s name probably comes from the Old Irish for “in the belly.” Imbolc celebrates lambing time, so it’s a party focused on gestation and birth, on literal and figurative new life.

Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, February 10th this year. The word “Lent” comes from the Old English word for Spring and shares a root with “lengthen.”

Many of us who grew up in a Christian tradition, if we celebrated Lent at all, focused on it as a time for giving something up. “What are you giving up for Lent?” was the question heard on the playground and in the lunchrooms of my childhood. If we were told why we gave something up for Lent, the reason was usually tied to our sinful nature. Lent was a time to try to rein in our sinfulness before Easter, to prove ourselves worthy of God’s gift of salvation in Jesus.

(This idea of human sin is an outgrowth of a troubling and pervasive idea about Jesus called “penal substitutionary atonement” or “sacrificial atonement” that’s become the primary way we’ve understood Jesus and God for the last few centuries. The short form of this idea is that God sent Jesus to die for my sins on the cross, and if I believe in Him I get to go to Heaven instead of Hell. Ugh. There are other valid and more helpful, healthy ways to understand God and Jesus.)

What if we approached Lent through the door of Imbolc and Groundhog Day?

What if we asked, “What’s in my belly?”

“What’s asking to be born?”

“How can I nurture whatever this is and prepare for its birth during the 40 days from Ash Wednesday to Easter?”

We don’t have to be churchy or penitential to find value in the ancient practices of a holy Lent. We have bodies and we live in them on an Earth that cycles, under a moon and stars that cycle. That means we naturally cycle – we have times of ebb and flow, times of rest and activity, times of retreat and going forth, times of dying and rising again.

We can reclaim the wisdom of earlier times that celebrated discernible lengthening of days, returning fecundity of Earth, softening and burgeoning forth of bodies and dreams.

We can ask ourselves what wants to be born, and then act to nurture emerging new life.

We can reclaim Lent.

Next week: a mini-retreat for going deeper into these questions.

My Mind is a Lying SOB

Whychus Creek

Whychus Creek

Oregon is cougar country.

Oregon is also black bear country.

Neither cougars nor black bears typically attack people. Nevertheless, hikers in Oregon are wise to know what to do if they come face-to-face with a cougar or a bear.

Yesterday I was hiking with a church group – sixteen people, mostly in their 60s and 70s – along Whychus Creek, just south of Sisters. Whychus Creek is a peaceful, beautiful place. Clear, cold aquamarine water runs at the bottom of a canyon over water-sculpted volcanic basalt. The trail winds next to the creek, through ponderosa pines and Douglas firs. Occasionally one of our local Cascades volcanoes peeks through the canopy. Turkey Vultures soar high above and forest birds sing.

Whychus Creek is perfect cougar habitat.

There I was, ambling peacefully along, listening to the water and the birds and the wind in the pines, when I heard it.

Crunch, snap, grrrrrrr.

I froze, gasped, and turned up slope toward the source of the noise.

There he was.

A 76-year-old Episcopalian named Dick, who had stepped off the trail to use the facili-trees and decided to scare the crap out of me.

After he was done apologizing and I was recovered, I noticed how different real fear is from the fake fear that results when our minds spin stories.

Almost all the fear we feel is a lie. Unless we’re in the presence of a bear or a cougar, we’re almost certainly victims of our mind’s bullshit. It’s good to be reminded of that – to be reminded of what real fear feels like.

Real fear is short-lived and intense. Fake fear lingers. We feel it as low-grade anxiety, tension, constant vigilance. Fake fear keeps us stuck, not safe. Fake fear causes all sorts of harm to our bodies.

So if you’re feeling fear and you’re not being stalked by a cougar, look inside your mind, under the hood, and identify what you’re thinking that’s causing you to feel afraid (aka “bullshit”). That thought is a lie. It’s not true. Use Byron Katie’s four questions on it, and feel your freedom expand.

I’m Leaving the Cult of Perfection

I took a walk alongwabi sabi Buddha the Deschutes River early this morning and thought about perfection. I evidently have a belief that if I’m not perfect something bad will happen. I won’t be loved, or someone will hurt me, or I’ll be laughed at. I know I’m not alone in this belief. Many of us are card-carrying members of the cult of perfection.

I’ve also been thinking a lot about stability as I develop a coaching program for women who are navigating change. Especially for those of us in midlife, the changes we’re experiencing tend to be associated with losses. We yearn for stability and comfort, and feel flawed because they’re elusive.

The cults of perfection and stability are intimately linked. They’re also profoundly misogynistic, rooted in a patriarchal, mechanistic, linear belief system that denigrates women’s bodies and the cyclical nature of life on earth. When we believe that our job as humans is to figure out how to get life right, and then spend all our energy keeping what we’ve built from changing and falling apart, we’re worshiping at the altars of stability and perfection.

While I was walking, I did The Work on this thought. (See Byron Katie’s website for a refresher on the four questions and turnarounds.)

I know that I think this thought is true. I know how much this thought keeps me playing safe and on alert, constantly scoping for what’s wrong. It keeps me small and judgmental of myself and others. Believing that I have to be perfect causes me stress that I feel in my body as anxiety and tension. This thought hurts.

When I drop the belief that I have to be perfect, I feel free and light. I’m generous with my work and my ideas and my creativity. I’m open about how I feel and what I think. I’m generous with other people and accept them as they are. Living is fun.

The obvious turnaround for “I have to be perfect” is “I have to be imperfect.” But “imperfect” is not a loving, positive word. Its English synonyms, according to Roget’s Thesaurus, are “deficient, defective, faulty, unsound, cracked, warped, frail, gimcrack, tottering, decrepit, rickety, battered, worn out, threadbare, seedy, worm-eaten, used up, decayed, mutilated.” See what I mean about the cult of perfection?? There is no English word that expresses “imperfection” positively.

So I looked beyond English to the Japanese, who thankfully do have such a word: “wabi-sabi.” Wabi-sabi is the Japanese conception of beauty as “imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete.” A rickety tea house, a roughly-glazed vase, a gnarly tree in the garden – all wabi-sabi and all beautiful because they are flawed, transient, and unfinished.

“I have to be wabi-sabi.” Yes. That’s most decidedly true. I have to be wabi-sabi because I am flawed, transient, and unfinished. What choice do I have but to be wabi-sabi?  Sure, I could keep trying to be perfect, but I’d rather be a card-carrying member of the wabi-sabi cult. Here’s to us, people of wabi-sabi!

I’m looking for women to test-drive my new program focused on change and loss. If you’re interested, please contact me.

as always, I offer free hour-long conversations to help you achieve peace and clarity, whatever’s going on. Contact me using the form below.

Unraveling

Baby held in big hands, Anne GeddesWe’re moving to Bend, Oregon. It’s been nine years since Jed and I moved from a suburb of Chicago to the mountain-nestled cultural and recreational mecca of Ashland, Oregon. I love Ashland. And we’re only moving to Bend. Bend is just four hours away and similar to Ashland in many respects. But, we’re still moving.

Because I know about linguistic epistemology, I understand that the words and metaphors I choose will largely determine my experience. So I suspected that labeling moving as a “long tunnel of chaos” was a bad idea. Other options were “tearing down a house” and the commonly used “uprooting.” Both of those felt too violent. I’ve settled on “unraveling” as a metaphor for this move. I’ve knitted a life here that I like in many ways. I feel more connected to the Rogue Valley than any place I’ve lived since marrying a minister who moves. Unraveling feels peaceful, so I’m going with that.

Unraveling also meshes well with the concept of the “Change Cycle,” a foundational life-coaching concept articulated by life coach Martha Beck. Martha uses the metaphor of a butterfly undergoing metamorphosis to teach the four-phase Change Cycle. Square One requires death and dissolving and letting go of life as we currently know it. Squares Two, Three, and Four are phases of reconstituting and rebirth. We get thrown into Square One, usually kicking and screaming, by life events such as marriages, births, illnesses, deaths, divorces, graduations, promotions or demotions, and moves. Even if we chose them.

Obviously, I am squarely in Square One.

I have historically been lousy at Square One. I much prefer the dreaming and scheming of Square Two and the planning and follow-through of Square Three. I have little experience of Square Four, “The Promised Land,” where Square Two dreams and Square Three plans have evolved into smoothly functioning systems. (Until another inevitable Square One event comes along aaaaannnddd Here We Go AGAIN!) The only way to achieve healthy, vibrant, “all systems go” rebirth is to completely die. (See this blog post for more on this topic.) Like most of us, I tend to frantically grasp at anything that promises to avoid the dismantling that Square One requires. I short circuit the dying part. This time, I won’t let that happen.

Here’s why this time will be different: I’ve learned some really helpful stuff I didn’t know nine years ago. Life coach training, grad school, and the Camino have taught me a few things. I know that my thoughts create my perceptions, feelings, and experiences. I know how to catch thoughts, then question and change them. I know how to let feelings move through me without attaching to them. I know about the importance of commitment. I know how to keep moving through the messy middle muddles, between the exciting clarity of beginning and the satisfaction of completion.

The most important thing that I know now that I didn’t know last time through Square One: I am deeply held and loved by Being/Source/God. That knowledge makes letting go possible. When I envision unraveling, underneath the fear and anxiety I feel peaceful and trusting. At the heart of the pile of yarn that is my life, I am cradled in Love’s hands. And all is well.

photo credit: anne geddes

Being Messy

Postman with gift

I want my learning to happen like this!

I met my friend Heidi today for lunch. I was kind of dreading it as much as I was looking forward to it. (Sorry, Heidi. Lunch was great!) When I asked myself why I was feeling dread, I realized that I didn’t want to tell her how incredibly messy I feel these days. It turns out I firmly believe these things about messes:

  • Messes are unlovable.
  • Messes are ugly and disgusting.
  • Messes are supposed to be hidden and private. No one wants to see my messes.
  • Messes are just bad. Oh, and people that make them are bad, too.

Wow! No wonder I didn’t want to talk about my messiness!

Confession: This blogging thing feels really scary to me. Why? Because I’m exposing my mess, somehow surmounting my belief that only products that are perfect and shiny and polished and elegant deserve public airing. (Why am I doing this again?) I can appear good and worthy only if my messes don’t show. But because I believe messes are bad and I know that I make them — a LOT of them — I’ll NEVER really feel okay/good/worthy. No messes — emotional, or project-driven, or shitty first drafts — allowed here. I must follow external direction and do it perfectly if I want to be loved and respected. Because following my internal compass leads to messes (again, a LOT of messes), and they’re obviously MY messes. I can’t claim I was just following directions. This accountability and the seeming inevitability of screwing up scares the hell out of me.

I’m willing to bet I’m not the only one with this particular constellation of beliefs hiding out in my neurons.

So, using the four questions of Byron Katie’s The Work, I’m sharing with you what I came up when I worked the thought “Messes are ugly and disgusting.” (Note that there are many thoughts I could have chosen. This one felt the most “charged.”)

1. Is it true that “messes are ugly and disgusting”? Yes.

2. Can I absolutely know it’s true? Well, no. Not really.

3. How do I feel and behave when I have the thought that “messes are ugly and disgusting”?

  • I feel hard, closed, resentful, and tired.
  • I sit on the couch and read a lot or watch TV.
  • I stop a project as soon as it looks like it’s getting messy.
  • I hide my interior mess from others.
  • I don’t ask for help.
  • I eat too much.
  • I strive compulsively for protection.
  • I don’t acknowledge my hard work.
  • I envy those who can do what I want to do without making messes. It’s not fair!!!
  • I look outside myself for direction and approval.

4. Who would I be, how would I behave, if I were somehow unable to think the thought “Messes are ugly and disgusting”?

I would be free to play, experiment, and step into the arena. I would be much calmer and accepting and joyful and grateful and brave. I would feel warm and open and floaty, like a butterfly in a sunny field of wildflowers.

A couple of turnarounds for “Messes are ugly and disgusting”:

  • Messes are precious jewels of awesomeness! (Messes are evidence of growth and change, stepping stones to what will eventually be elegant and functional, and the byproducts of play.)
  • Perfection is disgusting and ugly. (Perfection is dead. It can’t change and grow. There’s no air, no light. It’s a closed system with no room for anyone else, needing nothing from anyone.)
  • Other possible turnarounds: Messiness should be public. Everyone wants to see my messes! Messes are lovable and beautiful.

I feel so much better!! The four questions of The Work, along with turnarounds, are ways to start building new neural pathways in my brain, creating thoughts that feel better. With practice, my brain will think “Messes are beautiful” with alacrity, and I’ll feel better about making them. Maybe I’ll even come to celebrate my messes.  And that’s such a gift, because I can see a LOT of messes in my future.

So, there’s my mess. Thanks for being here with me!

I’d love to know what you think about messes and perfection, and about The Work.

 

 

 

 

The Resurrection of Wendell Berry

Eckhart Tolle quote

Don’t believe everything you think!

I found out yesterday that Wendell Berry is alive!

For at least a couple of years I’ve thought he had died, and I was missing him. Yesterday, thanks to my husband’s kind and patient insistence, and verified by Wikipedia , I came to believe that he was alive!

Hallelujah! I experienced resurrection. Small-scale resurrection, resurrection-lite, but still resurrection, because something (or someone) I thought was dead was living and breathing.

Friends, all it took to experience this resurrection was letting go of a false belief. Whenever I can recognize, and then release, something I believe that simply isn’t true, new life emerges.

In honor of the poet who encourages us to “practice resurrection,” here’s a poem by Wendell Berry.

The Peace of Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

— Wendell Berry