Taking a Break

My daughter and I are in beautiful Fayetteville, Arkansas. I’m taking a break until February. See you then.!

(The photo is from Wilson Park of the Wilson Park Castle. It was created in 1979 by Frank Williams to replace an old springhouse that was falling apart and covered in weeds. My grandparents owned a home on Wilson Street overlooking the park. My strongest memory of the park is catching crawfish with my cousins in coffee cans my grandmother gave us when we were young. If we caught enough, she’d make a wonderful crawfish boil. The stream was crystal clear back then. It still looks crystal clear.)

Well-being

I’m taking a break from the ACIM Lesson today to work through a strong emotion I had late last night after talking with my son. He’s going through a difficult period which includes a lot of soul searching and some difficult lifestyle changes. I thought I’d find a movie to watch about how mothers enable their grown children because I know there are a ton of them out there. During the search, I came across Sia’s “Elastic Heart” video.

I ended up watching the video over and over again because it resonated so deeply with me. Central to the video is a large cage that takes up the entire screen with a man and a little girl “trapped” inside. For me, the cage represents being trapped with mental illness. The man in the cage may be a mentally ill father figure but it works better for me to think of him as a personification of the lure of mental illness. The little girl is battling for her sanity. I know that feeling.

I can totally relate to the cage and the intimate struggle going on within it. You get on the other side of it and want to help release the people you love from the cage, but they are too scared to leave. If you want to be with them, you have to be willing to get back in the cage.

I grew up struggling with depression and frequent thoughts of suicide so sought help in my 20s at my husband’s insistence. I’m not sure I would have otherwise, because I had no idea how serious my issues were. I honestly believed my family was much more balanced than most. My parents weren’t divorced and they were financially stable. I had a friend whose mother once expressed her concern about my mother’s treatment of me. But otherwise, if anyone thought we were “weird”, I didn’t know about it.

The psychologist, however, thought my family dynamic was seriously messed up. I went to every session sick to my stomach because the psychologist focused almost exclusively on my relationship with my mother which felt like a betrayal. Yes, my mother’s behavior was incredibly confusing and upsetting, and while I agreed that how she treated me might be a little harsh, it’s what I’d grown up with. It didn’t feel abnormal to me. My mother was an amazing, intelligent, strong woman. She wasn’t “crazy”.

The psychologist told me the only way I was likely to gain objectivity was to move hundreds of miles away from my family. I didn’t share that advice with my husband and convinced him to move into a home just a short walk from my family’s home after our first child was born. But after our second child was born, my husband was offered a job in California and convinced me the move would be beneficial for all of us. He and the psychologist were right: the distance allowed me to gain a much healthier perspective.

We eventually moved back to Texas, but remained hundreds of miles away from the family dynamic and only ever made short visits back home a few times a year. I sought psychological help again in 2005, the year my father died. My marriage was solid, my relationship with my kids was good. But when I had to regularly deal with my mother and siblings, especially without my beloved father, I felt as though I couldn’t cope. I was assured, again, that I dealt with difficult situations logically and with emotional maturity. The struggle I was experiencing was a normal reaction to a crazy situation.

The most severe psychological diagnosis I ever received was “mild anxiety” but I think I’m probably more than “mildly anxious” these days. My mother was diagnosed with dementia 6 years ago and I’ve been spending a significant amount of time with my mother and siblings since her diagnosis. It’s such a difficult situation and it’s incredibly complicated.

I started having panic anxiety attacks for the first time in my life. My daughter came to me in tears, begging me to quit worrying so much about my family. She’s afraid I’m going to cut my life short or end up with dementia like my mother and she wants me to be around and healthy when she has kids.

I’m afraid she might be right to worry. I feel as though I’ve aged 30 years during the past six! I wake up worried. I go to sleep worried. I worry about the decisions we make for my mother.

I’m not sure what my role should be with my mother, siblings, or my mother or my son. How involved should I be? How much responsibility should I take? Have I taken too much responsibility already? Too little?

I honestly don’t know what I “should” be doing for others, but my daughter is right. I’ve been so stressed out about everyone else’s well-being that I haven’t been taking care of my own. My personal well-being isn’t just about me. It’s about my husband, my kids, and potential grandkids! It’s probably better for my siblings and mother if I’m healthy, too.

One of my biggest fears is that I’ll get dementia and my kids will have to take care of me. Chronic stress and anxiety may be the leading cause of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. I don’t want them to have to go through what we’ve been through with my mother (and my husband’s father). It’s heart-breaking and so terribly difficult.

I think females, in general, have a difficult time taking care of themselves. I know men struggle with it, too, but I don’t think they are made to feel as selfish about it as women. But it’s all the same, really. When you begin to set healthy boundaries, people who don’t want to respect those boundaries get angry, even though it is probably better for them, too. It’s a societal mental illness.

That’s why I’m making my way through ACIM again and I’m finding Kenneth Wapnick’s interpretation incredibly helpful. Specific problems are much easier to solve when you can generalize them because it all boils down to the same thing: we see ourselves as separate so we constantly make judgmental demands on each other and ourselves instead of offering non-judgmental compassion. If you can just reach that non-judgmental space in your mind, even for just a moment, your decisions are much more likely to be aware, unifying and healing.

The way to know why a boundary is in place (or not in place) is by keeping tabs on the ego. Is it there because I’m afraid of what someone is going to take from me? Or is it there because it is healing? Did I not put up a boundary because I genuinely want to help, or because I wanted to be pleasing and “special”? What drives the intention behind the decision? Fear or compassion?

I’ll keep practicing!

The Journey Continues!

It’s my 56th birthday and for some bizarre reason, I woke up this morning from a dream with an overwhelming desire to continue a journey I began when I was in my early 40s.

It was January of 2005. I had just been told that I had an inoperable talar dome lesion and that I’d never be able to walk without pain, again. I was in the emotional throes of self-pity so I started a blog. My first post was entitled, Belief Systems. I wrote:

I am attempting a journey through my religious belief system because one of my most cherished beliefs was recently challenged and I am faced with the excruciating task of rethinking my faith.

I’m not sure which specific belief had been challenged, but I do remember that I was struggling with Christianity, in general. We had moved to Texas from California a few years earlier and the move had been excruciatingly difficult for me. I was head of the Small Group Ministry at a growing Methodist Church in Southern California and was enrolled at the Claremont School of Theology, planning to become a Methodist Minister. I didn’t want to leave California, but I was a stay-at-home Mom and my husband felt it was the best decision for his career. So we moved.

I could have gone to theology school in Texas, but the move was very difficult for my son, as well, so I put my career goals on hold and became a homeschooling Mom. It’s impossible to ever say a decision was “the right” decision, but now that the kids are grown, my husband, kids and I all agree that it was a wonderful experience. We’d all do it again! But I digress…

My husband’s job was with Dell, which was located just north of Austin. We purchased a home in a nearby municipal utility district and although our previous homes had both been in conservative neighborhoods, the MUD turned out to be far more religiously conservative than either of us had ever experienced. To complicate matters, the tragic events of 9/11 took place the year after we moved and Christianity in our area literally split in two. Churches either became extremely Conservative or radically Progressive.

I’m sure we could have found something that worked for us in Austin, but we wanted a church close to home, so we ended up at a Unitarian Universalist Church with a large Christian membership that held a Christian service separate from the main service. I liked the people there and we were fairly involved, but it wasn’t a particularly good fit for my husband and I. When I received the talar dome lesion diagnosis, my normal reaction was to throw myself into church activities as a distraction, but the UU Church didn’t feel comforting and I didn’t feel overly compelled to volunteer my time there like I had at other churches.

It was disorienting for me. That’s the best way I can describe it. So I turned to the blogosphere. At first, I tried to seek an answer to whatever question I was asking through Christianity. I blogged about the Bible, Jewish history, and early Christian history. But in the midst of that first year of blogging, my father died from pancreatic cancer, my husband lost his job, and my adventuresome son embarked on a scary journey through his turbulent teens. The “excruciating task of rethinking my faith” turned into a full-blown crisis of faith. I quit going to church altogether and blogged my way through it, instead.

The first year, I switched formats 3 times. I started at Blogger but moved to LiveJournal because comment moderation was better. At the end of 2005, a friend purchased a 6 month plan for me at TypePad so I could have “a real blog” with good comment moderation so I switched again. In 2006, I received an invitation to become a beta user of Vox, so I moved there and stayed until it closed in 2010.

Vox was by far my favorite blogging format and where the vast majority of my posts were made over the years. When Vox closed in 2010, they moved everything to a free version of TypePad so I continued at TypePad for a few months and then quit blogging altogether. I quit, in part, because I missed the Vox community, but I had also reached a plateau and was becoming boring and repetitive. I probably should have quit several years earlier.

I was never quite sure of the question I was asking so never received “the answer”. I did, however, come to a somewhat satisfying realization. In my final post, “Letting Go of God“, I wrote that I had been looking for an objective, discoverable truth that doesn’t exist. It’s not that I decided God doesn’t exist. What I realized was that the question of God’s existence was completely irrelevant. It doesn’t matter. That realization was both freeing and oddly comforting.

The trials and tribulations of life continued, of course. I was having significant health issues in 2010 that continued for several years. By 2011, when we finally felt certain my son would make it through his turbulent teens alive, my husband’s father was diagnosed with dementia. He died in 2013 the same year my mother was beginning to show signs of dementia. She’s still hanging in there, but it’s been an extremely difficult 6 years. She no longer knows who I am beyond a sometimes familiar face.

This year, we buried my mother in-law in January, put my mother on Hospice Care in February, helped move our daughter into her own place in April, helped our son move several states away in May, celebrated my husband’s 60th birthday two weeks ago and are celebrating my 56th birthday, today.

My husband and I have been together over 30 years and we have a very connected, trusting relationship as well as a fantastic relationship with both our kids. After being in debt our entire marriage, we are now completely debt free. We even paid-off the house this year. Life, for the most part, is great. But it’s the end of an era for my husband and I. We are no longer parents or children in the sense we once were. Retirement and old age are around the corner.

2005 feels like a lifetime ago and I’m not in the same space I was then. Not even close! But 2005 was a significant transitionary year for me and I think I am probably entering another significant transitionary period. That’s why I woke up this morning wanting to continue the journey. I could have gone down a really dark path in 2005 had it not been for the wonderful people in the blogosphere.

I’m not entirely sure what that “continuing the journey” means because as usual, I’m not sure what question it is I’m asking. I know that I want to revisit A Course in Miracles with Kenneth Wapnick as guide. That’s something I’ve wanted to do since 2008 when I came across his lecture on ACIM & Nietzsche. While studying the Existentialists, I discovered a connection between the American Transcendentalists and Nietzsche. I’d like to dig into that. And although it never came up between 2005 and 2010, I want to learn about James Joyce. I think he is somehow connected to the new unknowable question I’m asking. And although it’s not really connected to “the question”, I’m interested in learning about Latin America because it’s right next door and I know nothing about it. (We may be going to El Salvador in the near future to bury my mother in-law’s ashes.)

I don’t think any of my blogs still exist. If they do, I don’t know how to find them. The blog I kept from 2006-2010 at Vox got deleted when SixApart deleted the free TypePad that had been created in place of Vox. (I imagine SixApart gave me an opportunity to move the posts to a different format, but I missed it.)

I still have close to half of what I wrote because I composed a lot of the posts on my computer before posting them on-line. At some point, I organized them on Evernote and a technically savvy friend worked some magic and was able to move them to WordPress. Unfortunately, I no longer have any of the wonderful comments left by readers because those were deleted along with my Vox and TypePad blogs. It’s such shame because the comments were far more interesting to me than my posts.

I’ve included what remains of the old posts. They are an eclectic mess of poorly organized stuff. A fellow blogging buddy once told me that weeding through them was like wandering through a crowded, disorganized bookstore with aisles and piles of stuff everywhere. I know they are a mess, but I want to keep them, if for no other reason than the sake of continuity. However disorganized that continuity may be.

I have no idea where this journey will lead, but considering you made it all the way to the end of this incredibly long, rambling post, I hope you join me!

Letting Go of God

Dreyfus said that a lot of students in his class on Heidegger (which is standing room only and students waiting outside the door to get in) would fail because Heidegger is incredibly difficult to understand.  Dreyfus warned students that if they don’t have the appropriate philosophical background, they need to consider dropping the class. My philosophical background is limited so chances are, I’d fail his class.  But if I was in school at Berkeley and if there were no Berkeley Webcasts and I had the opportunity to take his class, I’d willingly take the risk.

My interest in philosophy is far more spiritual than it is academic. In specific, I am interested in philosophical ideas that merge with mysticism. Since the Enlightenment, academia has lumped mysticism in with magic, sorcery, the supernatural and all things irrational. This is tragic because authentic mysticism is intensely rational. Yes, it is also considered to be transrational, but the stepping stone to transrational thought is rational thought, not irrational thought.  (For the sake of clarification, let’s use A.R. Lacey’s definition of rationalism – any view appealing to reason as a source of knowledge or justification.)

Mysticism flirts with atheism because transrational thought makes the question of the existence of God irrelevant.  Mysticism is NOT an atheism, however, because it does not make the claim that God does not exist.  However you answer the question, “Does God eixst?” (“yes, there is a God” or “there is no God”) – merely points back to the question itself. Both atheists and theists have made the question important by insisting they hold the “right” answer, but mystics consider the question irrelevant because mysticism is rational. “God” (by any other name) cannot be known rationally, therefore any rational question about God does not apply. It makes no sense, whatsoever, to insist upon the existence or non-existence of God. If you insist upon God’s existence, then you are likely more into supernaturalism and magic than authentic mysticism. If you insist upon the non-existence of God, then chances are you worship rationalism in the same way theists worship a supernatural God. True, a lot of mystics use the term “God” to point to what is transrational.  But this does not mean they “believe” in the term.

In The Gay Science, Nietzsche presents the parable of the madman. This madman runs out into the crowds exclaiming “God is dead”, and realizes he is at least 300 years too early for people to understand what he is saying.  Nietzsche isn’t telling theists that God is dead.  He’s telling secularists that God is dead.  Atheists may claim there is no God, but they don’t yet understand that God is dead.  Human beings created an ideology based on a concept that served humanity relatively well for centuries. The concept is no longer viable because we killed it. As Dreyfus said in his Existentialism in Film and Literature class, we abstracted it out of existence.  And as long as we believe in objective truth, we are forced to maintain a belief in a God’s eye view that has the ability to see this truth. Secularists haven’t eliminated God.  On the contrary. The role of God has been reassigned to science and reason. God is dead, but we don’t yet know it.

Many years ago, I was having great difficulty maintaining a belief in God and went through a frantic journey trying to find out everything I could about the history of the Bible, the history of the Jews, the history of Rome, Greece, and whatever else I thought might help. Through a series of connections with various bloggers (mostly on the now defunct Vox), I ended up at Hubert Dreyfus’ “Existentialism in Literature and Film” class I just mentioned. This sent me on an entirely new trajectory.

These days, I can say with confidence that I do not believe in God.  That is not to say I don’t think God exists. I simply think the question is irrelevant. I can’t even begin to tell you how long or how scary it has been for me to admit this to myself. There have been years of darkness associated with this admission because I simply have not wanted to acknowledge God’s death.

I think what was most difficult was letting go of the belief that there is an objective truth waiting to be discovered. I really thought I’d figure it out one day – that it all would make sense…

I still have so much to unlearn!