A Test of Spiritual Maturity

So, my next retreat weekend is in two weeks. Yup: very close in time to my return from The Trip, so I’ll admit I’ve been wrestling a bit with the decision of whether to go or not.

On the practical side of the scale against going is the fact that I just got back from a big ol’ trip and I’m not really loving the idea of getting in another plane and missing more workdays so quickly after the big vacation. It’s also true that I’ve come back to the office in time for a couple intense projects, which makes me even more uncomfortable about skipping work. Especially since one of the projects coming to deadline during this fortnight is one that I’m particularly excited and inspired by.

On the practical side of the scale towards going is the value I hold for this work, and the ways I know to my bones that it has helped move my life and my soul’s mission forward.

So, looking rationally, there’s not a super-strong weightiness towards either choice on the should I stay or should I go? see-saw. Which at some level, isn’t surprising. My life at work and at home here in Massachusetts are sufficiently rich that I bet I could always come up with a list of reasons to blow off a particular retreat weekend.

But I don’t ever skip the weekends. Like I said last time around: the weekends are always hard work, but I have never regretted going. In fact, I have always felt the gratitude and benefits of going.

And so, a week or two before The Trip — well after my usual 5-6 weeks ahead of time discipline in buying plane tickets and making travel arrangements — the fact that I hadn’t been able to bring myself to make time off and travel arrangements had me really curious. Some part of me, some strong identity, was really not wanting to go to this particular weekend. And the resistance was stronger than anything I’ve felt before.

I mean, I’ve had times where I contemplated skipping a weekend — there was one right after we moved into the house here, and I remember taking a good long look at whether it made sense to be on a plane so soon after moving. But the temptation to skip was never this strong this far into the game, so I really began to wonder if maybe the soul-centered decisions this time around was to stay in New England after returning home from Europe.

So I was putting a lot of reflection to the question. Like, a spinning myself into a panic level of reflection. After talking to a couple friends and classmates, I realized that, being as the source of my resistance was in the energetic/instinctual/emotional realm — and quite frankly, being that the primary value I hold in the work is similarly energetic and instinctual (though probably energetic/instinctual/spiritual rather than emotional) — this was not a decision I was going to be able to think myself to. I can make all the pros and cons lists I could possibly wish, but that sort of rational tool isn’t going to help me make what is ultimately a soul-based decision.

So I let go of the question and prayed to Spirit for a sign. A nice, clear, brick to the face kind of sign.

Nothing pertinent showed up during The Trip itself. (Not too surprising: there was so much to see and learn on other fronts, what room was there in the days for a message about this particular question?) So, Friday morning, I used my normal journal-writing time to pull cards on the question.

And the cards were as clear as they could possibly be: it is in my best and highest good to go down for the retreat weekend.

spiritual-disciplinesAnd I have enough spiritual discipline and maturity to follow through when the signs are as clear as this one was. So my plane tickets are purchased, and I worked with my teachers and the Center to create a somewhat-modified schedule that will allow me to balance my responsibilities to work and then take the last flight out of Boston Thursday night.

But I’ll say this much: it’s a hell of a lot easier to follow Spirit’s guidance when the cards are telling you to do what you already want to do. In this case, when the the ego-identities and emotional body are still running strong with resistance and rebellion? It is a veritable challenge to hold centered in that.

At some core, mature soul-centered place, I know I’ve made the right choice. (The sign in the cards was that clear. Really and truly.) Now I just need to hold the ego-identitites and fear-selves with a mixture of compassion and discipline. I know you’re scared. I’ll keep comforting you, and I’ll be here the whole time. But we’re going. Together, we’re going.

———-

Image credit: http://sportsandspirituality.blogspot.com/2011/11/personal-inventory-sports-spirituality.html

In the Cards

I know there’s been lots of times in my essays about fat acceptance and feminism, and even my references to climate change deniers and anti-vaxxers, that I have very much shown my old grad school habits of citing research and studies and hard science.

So it may come as some surprise to know that a week or so ago, when I was making the final decision about whether or not to audition for that show, I used a technique that is often in my discernment/decision-making repertoire: pulling tarot cards.

science_tarot_thumb[1]I started reading cards (in a very amateurish, glued-to-the-book fashion) back when I was a junior in college. It was one of the first real glimmerings I had of being connected to Source (Spirit, the “Big Good Thing,” what-have-you), and it’s something I still carry in my toolbox — a technique to get out of my own way, step away from whatever ego and mind voices I’ve got running and look for guidance and for signs. (And I’ve already talked about how fervently I do believe in signs.)

I know it may seem a bit contradictory, this combination of research-focus and of the weird woo-woo new age-y stuff. And there are times where I ask myself about that sort of duality in myself — is it a contradiction, or is it just a measure of the complexity of living in a quantum universe? And if I am so airheaded and woo-woo-y, then why do I get my back up so strong and so loud when I argue against the ways that certain cultural programs (like, oh, say fat shaming and obesity panic) are so completely unfounded in factual, objective reality?

And I think for me one of the key points of ethics I hold is marking a strong boundary between what I am willing to use to make my own personal decisions and what I think is appropriate when making larger claims about societal trends or what other people “should” be doing or not.

To distill it to the basics:

I have faith in Spirit and signs and so when I am making a personal decision for me and my life, I will readily turn to those woo-woo-y things in which I have faith. So, when looking at the conundrum of “to audition or not to audition,” a card pull was a perfect choice. It makes no strong difference for anyone else — positive or negative — regardless of which option I were to choose. So live in the faith and trust where my soul resides, pull the cards, and listen to their guidance.

But I know that individuals have different decisions regarding what their faith is — or even if they have a faith or a sense of spirituality. (I am deeply troubled by the assumptions many people hold about how it’s impossible for an atheist to have the capacity to live and ethical or moral life. Of course they can live ethically.) So, I would absolutely not want to impose my spirituality on another person’s choices. Nor do I want someone else’s personal/spiritual/scientifically-ungrounded beliefs to be imposed on me, on my life, on the culture in which I live.

And that’s why I look both to science and to Spirit for my guideposts.

———-

Inspired by the Day 19 prompt for Writing 101Today is a free writing day. Write at least four-hundred words, and once you start typing, don’t stop. No self-editing, no trash-talking, and no second guessing: just go. Bonus points if you tackle an idea you’ve been playing with but think is too silly to post about.

Not sure I think it’s too silly an idea, but it’s certainly something quietly embarrassing enough that I’ve been hesitant to explore it.

———-

Image credit: http://www.biounalm.com/2010/10/tarot-cientifico.html

[I can scarcely find the words to express how happy it makes me to know that such thing as the Science Tarot exists.]

A Reason or a Season

[Set-up] The Day 6 prompt for Writing 101 is a character study, a prose portrait of “the most interesting person you’ve met in 2014.” I know what follows is more an artifact of imagination and projection than anything else, but this individual has been on my mind now and again for the last few weeks, so I’m going to keep trusting my inner guidance in this, as with so many other things, and write the words I have in me to say. [/Set-up]

———-

misty-forestOne of the things we’ve been doing as part of growing roots up here in Boston is to attend services and find other (small) ways to become involved at one of the local UU parishes.

All told, it’s sort of been an odd time to be “dating” this new church. The customary minister has been on sabbatical, so the Sunday services have been a patchwork of experiences, from lay-led services (that so often sound more like academic lectures than actual sermons), to guest ministers, to services led by the congregation’s brand-new ministerial intern.

I know enough about how long it takes to get through divinity school to expect that Jeff is actually in his late 20s. However, he has that indeterminate appearance so many young men have — at least to my aging eyes — where his age could possibly be anything from 12 to 29. His frame is slender, such that he looks just the tiniest bit dwarfed by his minister’s robes. The eyes behind his glasses shine with warmth and brightness, but the glasses themselves, paired with the ministerial accoutrements and the care with which I have seen him perform his duties have created in me the strongest impression of seriousness.

The first time we saw him lead a service, Mr. Mezzo even criticized him for that seriousness. “I just prefer a minister who’s less formal, more able to laugh at themselves,” he said in our car ride home that day.

And I understood that, but I had my own theory. “Imagine being so young,” I said, “and you’ve been tasked with providing spiritual leadership and guidance to an established congregation full of people with decades more life experience than you, with more years of involvement in this congregation than you. A congregation that won’t stop comparing your performance unfavorably with that of their oh-so-beloved minister.*

“I remember how intimidated I was with the responsibility of teaching my first college class as a kid of 24, and that was just a low stakes music appreciation class! I can imagine choosing to act with a certain level of gravitas if I were in his shoes.”

———-

My level of church involvement and attendance is still pretty minimal, so I haven’t have opportunities to get to know Jeff to any particular depth. A couple of conversations during coffee hour, a number of services and sermons. My perception has been that he’s come a bit more fully into a comfort level as his months of service went by. I was glad to see that.

In a weird way, I was also glad to see the announcement that Jeff would be finishing his internship with us at the halfway mark rather than completing two full years of service. He was entirely gracious in his announcement of this news, and shared that he was in a process of discerning whether it sensed best for him to continue the path of UU ordination or if a different faith tradition would be better-suited as his spiritual and ministerial home.

And I get that, I really do. A college friend of mine went through a similar journey as she entered divinity school — leaving the faith of her fathers (Catholicism) to be ordained as a UCC minister, because she knew the call to ministry in her soul was true and deep and not to be denied. I also have my own small degree of resonance, recalling the ways I was brought up an a devoutly atheist household** and remembering my own journey of exploration and discernment towards the understanding and acceptance of Spirit I now possess — however ego-limited, nonetheless true and deep and not to be denied.

I also admit to wondering whether the congregation really gave Jeff a fair shake with this position. Instead of being actively mentored week after week by a sitting minister, he was being used as “substitute teacher” during that minister’s sabbatical. And, what with the number of church members expressing to me how “unfortunate” it was that Mr. Mezzo and I were starting to attend church during this sabbatical:

You’ll see how Reverend ______ is just so much better than this.

Well, if I (minimal participation and all) have gotten such a strong picture of the level of regard these folks have for their sitting minister (and of the attendant, not-so-subtle disdain they have for anyone who isn’t Reverend ______), I kinda think Jeff mighta been able to pick up on it, too.

So between my imagined resonance with his journey, and my soft regret for any discomforts he may have felt during this year, I have been holding Jeff in the light and wishing him all manner of support and guidance and acceptance as he journeys forward. May he find the home that best feeds his soul and where he can most authentically be of service.

I’ve been too chicken-shit to reach out and tell him this. Like I said, he and I barely spoke once or twice. The idea of emailing to share any portion of this just feels awkward and invasive and as if I’d be forcing him into the box of the story I made up about his life, rather than honoring his own knowledge about his own lived experience.

But, however on-point or off-base my understanding of Jeff’s decision may be, even if I never see him or speak to him again: this much I know to be true.

A small prayer, whispered up to the ether. You will always be part of  the church’s family tree in my drawing of its branches. Thank you. I wish you well.

———-

* More on that later.

** Yes, that’s a del thing. At least as far as I’ve experienced it, it is.

Image credit: http://www.seedsofunfolding.org/issues/02_11/feature.htm