Monday, February 23, 2015

Taming Terrorists

The Mystery within...
The reign of terror in our world today, whether homegrown or abroad, has been on my mind of late along with many questions such as what forms a terrorist?  What part does society, of which I am a part, contribute to terrorism?  And what part do I have in the formation of a peaceful world?  My questioning sprung from this quote from Marriane Williamson’s book, “EverydayGrace,” …”only love has the power to dismantle hate from which terrorism emerges.”  Williamson also writes that the next step in our evolutionary process will be learning how to love our enemies.  She suggests, “Think of the news as humanity’s prayer list.”    

I would like to know if there are specific studies today that seek to understand what leads people into terrorism.  Could the media then include such conjecture along with their reporting of the horrific details of torture, murder and destruction?  What turns an ego, in either a terrorist or anyone of us, into an infallible, “I am right and you are wrong” dogmatic believer?  Since I had been denied a voice throughout much of my life, I truly believe in freedom of speech.  But I don’t believe freedom of speech gives me, or anyone else, the right to poke a stick at a damaged ego.

As individuals, and as a society, what do we need to do in order to love our enemies?  Williamson writes:  “When we allow ourselves to feel the fear and sadness that lie behind our anger, our judgments undergo an extraordinary transformation and our fury turns into compassion.” 

What if in taming ourselves we also tame terrorists?

Monday, February 16, 2015

Learning Presence

The Mystery within...
Cathy Gawlik’s Facebook page  featured the Mark West message imposed on the Jhourey May Weeham Smo’s winter photo.  It astounded me when I saw it because it made me very aware that each moment in time presents me with a choice as to how I react to and interact with others, my surroundings, and myself.  West’s words recalled these lines for me from my memoir when I was presented an opportunity to retire early. 

“I stood stunned in the early spring sunlight that was streaming through the office window.
Time and choice had never seemed to exist for me until then.”

Now Mark West tells me, “In every moment we get to choose…”  I did choose early retirement back then and soon came face to face with the toughest decisions of my life in caring for my aging parents.  Answers, and the courage to make tough decisions, slowly came from everyday experiences and were growth filled and life affirming--like choosing good self-care over abuse.  During those difficult years, the gift of fear heightened my presence to everything and everyone around me.  Since then I have longed for that heightened sense, but without the attending turmoil. West’s words now give me some insight and hope for that return. 

My December 29, 2014 blog, One Word, told of the challenge I accepted to choose just one word that would represent growth for me in 2015.  I wrestled with words like listening, courage, freedom, justice and equality but finally declared my one word for 2015 to be Presence.  This past week I have been keenly aware that it is up to me to choose how I react to whomever and whatever shows up in my day.  I know Presence resides within me, in all others, and everything.  I am beginning to trust I can once again return to awareness of that gift, and maybe even without tumult.  Or perhaps the gift will again be disguised in chaos.

What if we all were keenly aware that in every moment we get to choose how we react to whatever and whomever shows up in our life?      

Monday, February 9, 2015

Sacred Meal

The Mystery within...
I felt uniquely blessed being remembered and thanked by Sisters Sylvia and Mary Alyce with a home cooked meal at their home. Last year I helped a friend throw a party to celebrate Sister Sylvia’s 60th anniversary of her vows as a School Sister of Notre Dame. She and Mary Alyce promised the two of us a thank you dinner. They honored me when they acknowledged my request many months earlier to please keep it simple. I now realize simple is sacred and sacred is simple.

We began with some red wine that Sister Sylvia made and a tiny plate of cheese and crackers so as not to spoil our appetite. Though I don’t drink alcohol anymore I made an exception and had a little of her wine. I wanted to compare it to my late husband homemade wine. It was delicious and felt sacramental. I wondered what awaited the plain white plates on the wooden dining table. It was mouthwatering to watch pork ribs, slow cooked in homemade sour kraut, being spooned onto our plates to which we added mashed potatoes, homemade applesauce and a roll. There was mention of dessert and I could hardly wait to find out what it would be—pineapple upside down cake, baked in a cast iron pan, topped with whipped cream and cherries soaked in whiskey. You could feel, and almost taste, the love that went into the preparation of our thank you dinner.

It doesn’t get much better than sharing a lovingly prepared simple meal with friends. It makes me wonder what else I could simplify in my life to more easily realize the sacred.

What if we could all know the sacred in the simple and the simple in the sacred?

Monday, February 2, 2015

Hopeful Future

The Mystery within...

I attended a retreat on the lives and writings of the psychoanalyst Carl Jung and the Jesuit priest, scientist, and mystic, Teilhard de Chardin.  At the closing session we were asked to share if we had hope for the future, and if so, what gave us that hope.
I said I was aware of many crones in our group and that gave me hope.  One of the men asked what a crone was and another man responded, “A crone is a wise woman.”

I looked forward to this retreat since Jung and Chardin’s writings were important to my healing and new life that came from the struggles I wrote of in my memoir.  I read to the group the following two paragraphs from Estes that I included in ”God Never Hurries.”

"The Jungian psychologist, Clarissa Pinkola Estes, describes the attributes of crones in, “Women Who Run with the Wolves.”  She is the 'Wild Woman archetype, the innate instinctual Self, …the mucky root of all women…' going about the '…work of soulful reclamation…a creative fire…a force that women cannot live without.'  Wild women know '…instinctively when things must die and when things must live; they know how to walk away, they know how to stay.” 

“In ‘being good,’ a woman closes her eyes to everything obdurate, distorted, or damaging around her, and just tries to ‘live with it.’  Her attempts to accept this abnormal state further injured her wild instincts to react, point out, change, make impact on what is not right, what is not just.”

I told the group Estes' book put me on a new, although very difficult path, where I learned to make major life-giving changes.  One of those struggles involved leaving the church of my birth.  After I confided my angst with a trusted priest, he told me there are two ways change happens.  One was to stay and work for change from within; the other was to promote change by leaving.  The relief I felt in leaving was so very freeing, and I could still respect those who chose to stay and work for change from within.

I concluded my comments to the group with Teilhard de Chardin’s prayer about learning trust, “Above All Trust in the Slow Work of God,” that closes my memoir.  I told them whenever life got really tough somehow that old Xeroxed copy of his prayer would find me and give me strength.  Also comforting and endearing for me was Chardin’s deep respect for women and his understanding of the Divine spark in everything and everyone.  Even though he was rebuked in his lifetime for his beliefs, he trusted in the slow work of God his loving vinedresser.  In his words:

Yet it is the law of all progress that is made
By passing through some stages of instability
And that may take very long time.

Which takes me back to Carl Jung and his belief that we have to face and feel the darkness that comes with life and let it teach us. And so it was with me.  Growth only came after leaning into my pain, reflecting on it, and working through it.

What if we all found hope for the future in both the light and darkness of our lives?     

Monday, January 26, 2015


The Mystery within...

I haven’t gotten outside much this winter and the truth is I am really longing for the emotional strength and spiritual comfort past winter walks brought me.  I long for deep feathery snow that kicked up lightly or a sandpaper crunch beneath my feet, or being gently blessed by fine falling crystals from a high cedar bough.  I think its time for me to reread “God Never Hurries” for my main purpose in writing it was to always remember my heightened awareness from the everyday messages that came with each season, and everything in it.

In the section of my memoir titled Truth, the first two paragraphs read:

Light snow was falling on an early January morning when I drove my car to a neighborhood service station and left it there for an oil change.  The snow stopped as I started to walk home.  Several hours later when I went back to pick up my car, I was surprised to see my footprints still alone in the fresh snow.  No one else had walked my path.  I backtracked on my lone footprints thinking of the path I had trod the previous year and my painstaking search for truth in daily reflection and writing.

Several blocks later, I saw a woman approaching.  She walked in my original prints but didn’t know me.  We smiled as we passed each other and said hello.  I wondered:  if she reflected and wrote each day about her reality, what would her truths be?  When I reached the corner, I crossed to the other side of the street so I could continue in my tracks.  There a man’s footprints had tracked on mine.  I wondered what his truths were and could he understand my reality? 

I am currently going for physical therapy for my sore knee so I can hopefully return to a life lived closer to God’s creation were weather, skies, sun, clouds, rain, ice, wind, birds, fog, water, waves, stones, leaves, and animals and fish and so much more spoke to me in every season and let me know that I am loved.  While at physical therapy today an overhead television screen showed bedridden soldiers with horrific incapacitating injuries.  I hope they know that they are loved.

What if each and everyone one of us, everywhere, knew that we are loved?  Would there be need for injury anywhere?  

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Life's Messy

The Mystery within..

There was a vacuum cleaner commercial some years back with the slogan, “Life’s messy.  Clean it up.”  I’ve learned from life’s traumas to keep cleaning because like vacuuming it’s not something I do once.  Learning from trouble requires ongoing engagement.  The important thing is to do the work again and again.  If there were no struggles, would we ever know true forgiveness?  And how else would compassion be learned?  

My traumas taught me about hope, trust, patience, reflection and planning along with forgiveness and compassion.  I heard Martin Luther King had said, “Struggle is about hope.”  His words helped me accept my angst in caring for my aging parents.  Also enlightening and comforting, was a copy of a Teilhard de Cardin’s prayer, “Above All Trust in the Slow Work of God.”  That prayer seemed to find me whenever I really needed to let go and trust things would eventually work out.  I also remember being very open to everyone and everything around me during that difficult time.  My heightened awareness to the people, places and things I encountered daily were the source my learning, along with reflection and writing that clarified the next steps I needed to take.

I sometimes long for that heightened alertness that made me so very present to what was going on around me, but not the accompanying trauma. Lately, I tried applying Bessel A. van der Kolk’s recommendation to hover calmly and objectively over my thoughts, feelings and emotions as a way to access mindfulness and not be highjacked by my emotions.  It did help me respond to others more calmly and made me want to plan for better outcomes in daily living.

What if we could all know struggle stands for hope and to trust mindfulness will eventually lead us to better life outcomes?  

Monday, January 12, 2015


The Mystery within...

This weekend I accepted a reciprocal invitation to share a meal, and continue renewing an old friendship, with a couple my late husband and I knew before we were married, and while our children were young.  Our reminiscing took us back to the first places we lived after marriage, and the subsequent dwellings we occupied that eventually led us to our present homes.  We marveled at the advancing ages of our children, and grandchildren, and shared our health status and other challenges that come with age.  We became quite aware of our temporal timeline.  I was stunned by how fast time has streaked by in the intervening years, and grateful to be renewing this old bond.  It led me to reflect on what I have learned, and I am still learning, about friendship.               

One of the most affirming acknowledgements and insight I received regarding friendships came in a Clinical Pastoral Experience handout I received back in the 1990’s.  It was a joy to find this Xeroxed copy again of a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel newspaper column written by the psychotherapist Philip Chard titled, “Some of us don’t need many people to be truly happy.”  Basically the article acknowledged that we are a social species but that not all of us are cut out for “…a life crowded with people.”  Chard further wrote, “Many of my clients could benefit from being less people-focused, not more.”  ‘Mostly what makes people crazy is other people,’ is how one associate puts it.”  And …”while it has been rightfully said that you can’t know yourself without being known by others, it is equally true that you can’t know yourself without finding time to be alone with just you.”  I still look forward to reading Chard’s continuing weekly columns.   

And the guests on this week’s On-Being podcast, Parker Palmer and Courtney Martin – The Inner Life of Rebellion, told of the human aspect of rebellion that includes the importance of a discerning community and inter-generational friendships that connect us to both our inner and outer lives thereby transforming us into life-giving people.  Our soul was compared to a shy wild animal that knows how to survive and only makes an appearance in a safe space.  Paradoxically, we also need both chutzpah and humility, be open to critics, and to know our hidden wholeness that will allow us to experience discomfort and learn in public.  It was said that we are each other’s health care workers, and faithfulness trumps effectiveness.

And I am currently reading Bessel A. van der Kolk’s book, “The Body Keeps the Score” telling how the trauma’s we experience affect us, mentally and physically, along with our relationships with others.  He writes:  “Being able to hover calmly and objectively over our thoughts, feelings, and emotions (an ability I’ll call mindfulness throughout this book) and then take our time to respond allows the executive brain to inhibit, organize and modulate the hardwired automatic reactions preprogrammed into the emotional brain.  This capacity is crucial for preserving our relationships with our fellow human beings.”  Responding to others with a friendly face and soothing voice does create a safe space where others and we can feel calm.

What if all our hearts could be tied together in friendship?