Meditation and silent screaming.

Something I’ll do tomorrow, and something I do most Wednesday mornings, is attend a Christian meditation group. Based on the teachings of the desert fathers (or, if you’re one of the three people I know who have read An Alien At St Winifred’s, the dessert fathers, with their dedicated ministry of sweet pastries…), Christian meditation is about moving beneath and beyond the chattering, daily concerns of life, away from the mental and cerebral, and deeper into the self. It is within the self that we discover Other; it is within us that we discover the Being who created us. And, in resting in that Being, we learn to be.

That’s the theory, anyway, and it’s something that resonates within me. It’s something I’m drawn to; it’s something that I need to do, a spiritual imperative. This is the manifestation of my yearning for my Source.

It’s hard though, and at times it’s scary. In meditation, my mind quiets, and I manage (sometimes) to move below the regular mundane tumult of thought and mental to-do-lists and questions and worrying and planning…and when I do, I feel. There’s ten years worth of feeling there, and often it’s painful and often it’s scary and it’s only when my blathering rationality quiets that there’s room for feelings.

Sitting in the group, in the silence of meditation and in the company of other meditators, I’ve felt a scream build up inside me. Starting deep, just below the very bottom of my sternum, its grown and strengthened until I’ve felt that only opening my mouth and giving it voice would bring any sense of relief, of release.

I haven’t, of course. I am a person for whom self-control is a basic and valued attribute, and the idea of actually shattering that sacred silence with a scream of – what? Anger? Fear? A straightforward build-up of too much emotion over too many years? – simply wouldn’t be an option. But the scream is there, and it means something, and part of the journey to within my self that is meditation is working out what that means, and how it’s a part of the healing I’m still journeying towards.

I’ve thought about just bunking off – tossing meditation, like marathon-running, into the useful-but-not-for-me basket of things I’d once thought I’d like to do. Putting it aside until things are easier, more comfortable. But I can’t. As I seek my Source, the Source within me reaches out to Itself, and draws me ever closer to Itself.

Spirit will unfold, and doesn’t seem to care that I’m digging my heels in. I guess I can trust that Spirit knows what It’s doing.


The practice and practise of happiness.

One of the comforts of being half a person is that things are easy. When you live in your head, you don’t have to feel. You dwell in rationality, and the mental life is enough. You can retreat into your head when things are difficult; retreating into my head – what psychologists call dissociation – has got me through beatings and worse, barely feeling them.

The flip side of this is that, while you’re in endurance mode, you feel nothing: no pain, no fear – but no joy. You become entirely detached to the emotional world, the world of being a full, feeling human being.

Now I’m no longer half a human, and I understand that the consequence of this is that I must learn to feel. I must learn to be comfortable with my grief, my shame, my anger. I must learn to manage my fears – and that’s the easy part.

Part of learning to become a whole person is actually learning to be happy: that it’s allowed. That nothing terrible’s going to happen to me as a result of being happy: laughter will not result in a sudden sharp slap; a night out with a friend won’t earn me recriminations and censure.

It’s taking me a while to learn that. It’s taking me a while to realise that happiness can be simple; that there’s no retribution for a moment of light-heartedness; that the jealously of the unhappy will not forbid by high spirits.

And most of the people around me don’t question their happiness. They simply enjoy it, thoughtlessly, without a second’s hesitation, without even a thought that perhaps they don’t deserve it. No second-guessing, no over-thinking; happiness is easy, wonderful, something to delight in, to take pleasure in.

I’d like that to be the case for me. I’m looking forward to learning to be as comfortable in my happiness as in the distress in which I’ve spent so many years. Like everything, it’s a work in progress – but I’m happy, with this learning, to spend the time practising.

Low at his feet, and compassion.

I wrote yesterday about Michael Mayne’s comment, that if fatigue and anger and the bleakness of life is all you have to offer in prayer and sacrifice, then that’s what you offer. It is with those things that you do honour to the Creator, because the Creator and Source of all knows deeply and profoundly what it is to be tired.

And in many ways, that’s easy. It’s easy to own to being tired, to lift that in offering: I’m tired, I feel unwell, I had an asthma attack yesterday and a rubbish night’s sleep, and I’m starting a headache and I didn’t make time for a proper lunch today, and God I feel like shit, but here you go. It’s all yours because it’s all I’ve got. 

It’s harder when all I’ve got is actually not caused by physiological realities. When it’s not tiredness of the body, but tiredness of my soul. Some days are good, and it’s easy to offer how I’m feeling as my prayer; other days aren’t good, and what I’ve got to offer is bleakness, and pain, and anger, and grief, and shame. The weight of the past, and my guilt that I cannot yet shed it; the anger of rapes and beatings and ten years’ worth of injustices and unfairnesses; the fear of panic attacks and the impact they have, and my shame that I cannot control them.

And that’s hard to offer not because it’s a pretty crappy gift – which it is – but because offering means owning it. Offering it means acknowledging that this is what’s going on – and that it hurts. I’d rather not offer it, to be honest. I’d rather be alone with it and pretend it’s not there than I would gather it up and acquiesce to it, and actually recognise the impact it all has.

There’s no choice, though – I get that. Until I actually acknowledge it all, and honour it, and feel it, I won’t heal from it – I’ll just bury it and pretend it’s not there, and carry it around unadmitted until I work up the courage to look at it.

In lifting all this shit up to the Source of all compassion, I must find the courage to face compassion. But that’s just the way the cookie crumbles, and that’s what I have to do.

Low at his feet lay your burden of carefulness; high on his heart he will bear it for you. 

I know these words to be true – living them, though, is a whole other matter.

Prayer and physio.

I’ve been busy, but I’ve been using my busyness as a barrier to spending time in prayer and meditation. And this, if I’m honest, is why: because I’m scared.

The wonderful theologian Michael Mayne (why have I only discovered him this week?) writes, on prayer, that “in silence we might find disturbing feelings bubbling up from our unconsciousness”. He writes that it’s the silence which we enter which opens us up to feelings we’ve long supressed, or refused to acknowledge, or thought we’d dealt with. Feelings that we’re ashamed of, that might be connected with the darker side of who we are. The emergence of this “shadow side”, he writes, is healthy, and can be a healing process.

I do want healing. I do want health: physical, mental, emotional, spiritual. I do want wholeness, and I feel that I’m doing the things I need to do to get there: I’m eating well, not drinking too much, keeping myself safe when I’m not ok; I’m living a life in accordance with my values. But I’m not doing all the things I need to do to get there. I’ve been frantically trying to stop myself from feeling what was done to me. Trying to stop myself from feeling anger, and shame, and above all from feeling hurt and grief, because those feelings are horrible, and prickly, and painful, and if I’m honest with myself I don’t know how to handle them. So I keep busy and I make it hard for myself to do anything – like spend time in prayer and meditation – which gives these feelings an in. I don’t want them anywhere near me.

But that’s not how it works. If I break my leg tomorrow, I’ll spend time immobile in a cast, but then I’ll spend weeks in painful physical therapy, pushing myself, agonisingly stretching and strengthening abused and weakend muscles – and I’ll have no choice if I ever want to walk, and run, and move with the freedom and flexibility I currently enjoy. Not that I’ve ever broken my leg, or am planning on doing so – ever – but I’ve had enough experience of physical therapy to know that it’s painful.

Not as painful, perhaps, as the need to spend time feeling things I’ve long tried to pretend aren’t there. But there isn’t a choice. I feel them now, or I let them continue to cripple me. And my life is worth more than that.

Still, all in all, right now I think I’d rather the physio.

An oddly overwhelming message.

I wrote yesterday about the wonderful plan I have to eat lunch at my desk, and then spend my half-hour lunch break outside, under the beauty of a tree or allowing my mind to be lulled by the music of the river which wends through the park near my work. To spend that time in prayer, in reflection, in meditation. In solitude, and in peace.

It’s probably not a huge surprise that my plan didn’t work – the day got busy, a meeting got scheduled, and before I knew it, it was four o’clock. Then suddenly, five to five. Then five past five, at which point I was stupid enough to pick up the insistently ringing phone (I finish work at five o’clock). Then gone half-past five by the time I got out – with not one heartbeat spent in peace, or prayer, or reflection.

And I chafe against it, and I resent it a little bit (really, day? You can’t give me a break for half an hour?), but I’m also kind of ok with it. Because increasingly I’m aware of the fact that I rely on the busyness of my mind. I rely on the demands of my life, on my lack of leisure time, on my lack of mental stillness, on the constant movement of my mind. Because stillness is scary. Because stillness – I think I might have said this before – gives emotion a chance. Because stillness forces me to face the fact that I’m tired, fairly constantly. That sometimes I’m frustrated. That sometimes I’m angry. That often I’m sad. That sometimes I’m happy – which is actually, perhaps counter-intuitively, more frightening than simple sadness.

In my meditation group yesterday, I found myself swept towards the sense of overwhelmedness. The ticking of the clock was urgent and thunderous in the room’s silence; the quiet sweep of morning traffic outside was clamourous, chaotic. The silence itself became just as overwhelming as the din of a crowded room. It was tempting simply to stand up, gather my keys from the floor under my chair, and walk out.

I’m not sure why this happened. Maybe because I was tired – it’s a before-sunrise start to get to the morning meditation group. Maybe because it’s been a number of weeks since I’ve done any sort of meditation at all, and my mind is no longer used to being devoid of demands. Maybe because I was apprehensively facing my frist day back at work after a fortnight’s leave. Maybe because I have post-traumatic stress disorder and my limbic system is an over-reactive drama queen. Who knows.

My hunch though, was that it was all of the above. And that somehow, there’s probably a lesson in that: slow the hell down. Thank you. Love, God.

Floaties and a dictionary.

I had a psychologist appointment tonight, after a busy day at work, so of course I’m exhausted and can barely string a sentence together, let alone spell the words that are supposed to go in the sentence. Honestly, after a psych appointment I generally feel as though I could sleep for a week.

It came up again, though: I excel at analysis and intellectualism, and struggle with emotion. Understanding what’s gone on, and my responses, is great – but I also need to feel what’s going on. I need to be willing to feel what I feel: the hurt, the anger, the grief and fear and shame. Intellectualising and understanding won’t stop the emotions: it’s the equivalent of trying to fend off a wall of water by battering at it with a dictionary.

I can’t fight a wave of emotion that has the power to overwhelm me. I can only ride it.

I don’t need a dictionary. I need floaties.

And sleep.

A wanna-be monastic and the opening to prayer.

In one of those odd twists of synchronicity that often seem to happen to me, each of the six or so books I’ve read recently – both novels and non-fiction – have seemed to involve some sort of reflection on the monastic life. I’m not the sort of person to see divine instructions in the random coincidences of life, but it’s been enough to make me think. Not about joining a monastic order – although think of the blogging and journaling possibilities that such a journey would entail  – but the idea of the monastic life, centred on prayer and ritual, to which the bustle and demands of life’s busyness take a subservient role, is deeply attractive.

I’m strongly, gently called to the idea of folding my days around the beauty of prayer. The idea of pulling myself out of the bright and sharp impositions of my day to re-centre myself on the Sacred, in which I already and always have my being – I’ve known the importance, felt the pull of this for a long time – and yet, I’ve really done nothing about it. It shouldn’t be that hard to remove myself from the commotion of the day, even for the moments it takes to say a blessing – but it is. It should be a reminder that I am never separate from the Creator of the universe, in which I dwell and from whom I can never be apart. But there’s a barrier, to something that should be as natural as breathing.

It’s hard, to find that entry point, that opening to whatever passes for prayer in my mind. That door through which I can step away from the chatter and worries and to-do lists of my nine-to-five mind, into a space of openness and emptiness from which to acknowledge my place in the very Being of the Sacred, as well as Its place in my very being. I need that entry point, some small gentle ritual to provide a catalyst for that moment – and it needs only be a moment – of stillness.

My research skills are exemplary and my intellect and capacity to use words are such that I have no doubt that I can find, easily, some beautiful and poetic and theologically-appropriate opening to prayer, even if I have to write one myself. But doing that would be its own form of procrastination. Because a lack of words is not the real barrier.

The real barrier is this: fear. Because true, mindful engagement with the Sacred involves opening myself, and to open myself I must empty myself, and to empty myself I must let go of all those emotions and fears that I keep under such rigid contra. And that’s something, despite how hard I’m working on my own healing, that I’m too scared to do: I’m scared of what will happen when I let them out of my control.

Like pretty much else, it’s a work in progress. Like pretty much else, I’m hoping that the determination and the longing and the hoping, right now, are an ok substitute for the actual reality. Because I’m getting there – just not quite yet.