Thursday, 20 December 2012

Spice Lounge, Oxford FTW

People often ask me what my favourite Indian restaurants in Oxford are - the answer to that is that I haven't tried all of them, but my top 3 are Aziz on the Cowley Road (often in the top 50 in the country), Bombay on Walton St (it's small, tends to fill quickly and if it is FULL to the gills, you'll pretty much only be allowed to hang for 90 minutes) and Spice Lounge in Summertown, my 'local', as it were. I have recently been told that Kebab Kid on the Cowley Rd and on Gloucester Green offer the best homemade Pakistani-style curry around - having tried a bite of Nahed's one evening, I have to agree.  I'll get back to you when I've tried a proper serving size.

But of them all, it's Spice Lounge that's my haunt and my housemates' (yes, that's all of them) favourite for takeaway, and not just because it's nearest - the food is great, but on top of that, the people are fabulous. I feel like a member of the family there - I get huge grins and a warm welcome on my arrival. Ali, the owner and my favourite Hajji, and I check in with each other's lives - sometimes his kids are in the reception area, doing their homework. Often, if it's early and quiet, we'll have a proper chat.

So it really is like visiting an extended family member's home.

And as with all extended family members, there are the odd bumps in the road. We're human. Last night, an extremely capable and solicitous, but young and new, waiter stopped by our table about midway through and asked if we were finished. Now, to be fair, it was obvious *I* was, but less clear that my friend was. She took a final bite and sheepishly put her knife and fork down as we continued catching up on a year's worth of news.

A couple of minutes later, I gently asked if she was done, saying I wasn't worried about the time. She looked hugely relieved and said, 'Well, I'll just have some more rice, if that's ok.'

'Of COURSE it is -  *I* had a Grande Eggnog latte before you arrived at Starbucks, then a small Gingerbread latte to keep you company. Eat away and as much as you want, I don't care!' She carried on very happily till her rice was finished, but I was aware that she might not have done so.

Also, I had a report from a friend who'd been asked a question she deemed personal and impertinent - NOT a come-on, I hasten to add. Just a question out of curiosity, but one that was just a bit too personal coming from a stranger.

Time, I thought, to speak to Ali. Maybe I could have pulled the waiter aside, but he was very busy and I did think that it was worth addressing with everyone, just in case he wasn't alone.

I turned around to see him by the coffee machine, checking on bits and pieces, excused myself to my friend, and tapped him on the shoulder. 'Hey, could I borrow you for a minute?'

'Of course!'

'Listen, you guys are absolutely fantastic, I love how friendly you are and I love that I'm known here. Just a couple of things.'

'PLEASE. Tell me. Tell me, I want to know.'

'Well, first of all, I just want to say that your new waiter - the young one - is fantastic and totally on top of things.  Just the tiniest thing: he came by and asked if we were finished - I obviously was, but she wasn't...and you know how it is. He obviously just wanted to get it right. Now, I'd just say, 'No,' and not be bothered, but...'

'Sometimes, especially if people are here for the first time, they get conscious about it and stop eating.'

'Exactly, whereas someone like me just isn't fussed.'

Then I narrated my other friend's story, prefacing it with, 'I know it was just curiosity, and meant in a friendly way.'

His eyes went wide, and even as he agreed with me as to motive, he said, 'But, from the other side, it's offensive, isn't it?'

'It could be, ja.'

'See, this is what happens sometimes when you aren't on the floor and when people are new - we got a new team whilst I was away (on Hajj). Sometimes, I just don't know. Thank you SO much for telling me.'

'Look, please - you guys are fantastic and so friendly, it's great, it's just those things.'

'Please. Always come and tell me. And tell your friends they can come and tell me.'

'I will.'

I walked away feeling great, and the rest of dinner included a decadent pudding thrown in for free and profuse thanks from Ali again on my way out. 

It was amazing. 

I was forcibly reminded, as I always am after a 'clear the air' session, how much better  relationships are once things are worked through. There is space for conflict, space for anger, space for hurt, space for discussion - and every single time I've worked things through with someone, the relationship has come out stronger and deeper as  a result.

I don't get the burying, the avoiding - I mean, I understand them, but I don't get them. Things don't get better, they get worse. Relationships where you're walking on eggshells are either going to be dropped into the space where you need to deal with things, or the relationship will just stop working.

Why? Because you can't trust someone who's lying to you. Without that trust, nothing works. When you open up, especially when it's most scary because you're having these intense feelings, and you're held in the space where they're accepted and understood, you  know you can trust, no matter how hard it gets. You relax into the relationship, healed, becoming wholly yourself.

And you know what's real. Frankly, I'd rather hold intense emotions such as anger, grief, sadness, anxiety, woundedness openly in a space, no matter how painful it is, than have it as a relentless subtext to the relationship.

Had Ali gotten defensive or not wanted to know, no matter how good the food is, it's likely that at some point, I'd have stopped going, because the service would have fallen apart. Small problems need to be dealt with, or they become big problems, endemic to the place and culture. I couldn't have trusted it and I couldn't have been myself. And had I gone around telling everyone else about those incidents, telling them how angry I was, it would have hurt a damn good person and a good business. And he couldn't have trusted me. I wouldn't have trusted myself either.

But now, I know I absolutely can - Spice Lounge will continue to be my regular haunt - and extended family home - for Indian food.

If you're in the area, may I warmly suggest you make it yours. 

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Gun control

I need to get my ass back to blogging, but first, a public service announcement:

I am a gun control advocate. Why wouldn't I be? I want people to wear seatbelts and not talk on their mobile phones when driving; I lock my doors at night; I want doctors who wield scalpels to be qualified.

The same with people who carry guns: I want background checks; I want tests in their competence regularly; I want them not only to be trained in how to use a gun safely and competently, but put under simulated conditions, so they know how to do it in the situations in which they'll need it.

But enough of how I feel - because I'm speaking from theory. Here's the best essay I have ever read on the subject of gun control, because it's by someone who is speaking from practice.

Meanwhile, my heart and prayers are with Newtown, CT, especially the parents, siblings, extended family and friends with empty arms and an empty place in their hearts, homes and circles.

Requiescant in pace to those who, five days ago, were planning Christmas with loved ones; expecting the tooth fairy and Santa Claus; discussing family, gifts and 'Do you think he LIKES me, though?' in the staff room; driving their parents and sibs crazy on the way into school; those who wondered, young and old, what 2013 would bring. 

They should have been hanging off the Gate of the Year, gap-toothed, grinning, chattering with excitement, making plans, holding the kids from leaning over too far, wondering, with anticipation, what the opening of the gate would bring.

Instead, for the most unnatural and horrific of reasons, they have been forced from their path to the gate and trodden into a different darkness, where the hand of G-d must lead them far too soon.

May they forever be sheltered under His wings.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

To the mother I passed on my way into work today

Dear Woman yelling at your daughter on the corner of Wentworth Rd & Banbury Rd today,

I just want you to know how close you came to being shaken and slapped in public in front of your children and everyone on their way to work/school today.

I get that it must have been deeply frustrating when your 5-6 yo daughter froze and threw a wobbly, crying in the street, making you late taking her and your son to school. I'm not sure what she'd forgotten or why she wanted to go home.

But standing in the street, yelling about how she was making you late and how you were going to cancel her playdates and not let her do anything nice this weekend in your OX2 'I went to Roehampton' accent didn't make you sound like a good, strong, in-charge mother.

It made you sound weak. It made you sound like a shrill, abusive c*** who finds her children a burden and who takes all her anger out on them. I'm not sure how close to the truth that was, but what was clear was that you thought answering a child's panic with your anger was the answer. You might have gotten her to move, but she'll never trust you.

Neither should anyone else.

I'm sure you reacted in a way that was familiar: maybe your mother; maybe your father. Maybe it was all you knew. Right now, I don't give a DAMN what YOUR issues are; the ones that make you treat your child like they're an extension of you and supposed to soothe YOUR feelings. YOU ARE THE ADULT. It's YOUR responsibility to BE emotionally aware, to choose how you respond and to contain the emotions that your daughter couldn't.

You've clearly been privileged. It's time you made good use of it and dealt with your shit, so your children don't have to - nor do the rest of the people who will be part of your children's lives, feeling the effects and trying to fix the damage you are unwittingly (one hopes) doing.

Because, quite frankly, it's parenting of the type you displayed this morning that is the core of an unhappy society: today, you taught your daughter that your time was more important than she was - that it was so important, in fact, that you would withdraw your love and her life - playdates, a weekend of fun, the ability to rest in the knowledge that you love her no matter what. 

It's mothers like the one I imagine you are - shrill; vomiting emotionally on everyone around you; seeing your children as an extension of yourself, there to prop up your self-esteem; brittle, taking up all the emotional space, no matter how 'dominant' you appear to be in the family; distant, suffocating or alternating between the two - incapable of allowing healthy separation; self-absorbed; stingy with your love - making your children earn it - that I see reflected in so many faces of my friends and my clients. You're the mother I see dragging her resistant, struggling son by the hand to serve at mass so YOU have bragging rights and can feel like a 'good Catholic mother'. You're the mother I've seen walk to her seat in countless ordinations, setting my teeth on edge and making me think, in just one glance, one interaction with those around you, 'Wow. Well, THAT explains a lot - I understand so very much now,' as my heart breaks for your son. You're the mother I feared I might become.

Am I projecting? You bet your Roehampton-educated ass I am.

I really hope it was a bad morning - that your daughter had been insufferably difficult (still your job to find out why), that it's been a bad week and you were at the end of your tether, that it was just that crap moment we all have. But something in your tone and the particular threats; in the note of hysteria in your daughter's crying; in your son's resigned posture on his bike told me that was probably not the case, though I suspect the truth is somewhere between my projection and the most positive possibility. It usually is.

So here's a thought. Next time, find out why your daughter - or son - is so upset. Spend the few minutes listening - trust me, they'll be fewer than the minutes you spend threatening her with the withdrawal of your love - and either going back to the house without rancour or suggesting an alternative solution. Not only will you be calmer, but your children will learn that you will be there and love them no matter what, and that stressful feelings aren't scary, because they can be resolved.

Next time, be a Mum, not a mother. 

Trust me, the payoff will be greater than you can even begin to imagine.

The therapist who doesn't ever want to see your children in her consulting room

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Reflection on an election, or: Fr Jerome, I'd like to change my answer

My eyes opened into darkness from a dream I couldn't remember.  I could hear the sound of the heating coming on, like miners working far below me.

So it was between 05.45 and 6am.

As I emerged from the depths, I could hear the whispers in my head, and in a half-dream, could see President Obama swiftly walking the halls of the White House, calling to Michelle and the girls, 'Come on, we have to see the concession speech!' Romney and Co. were a blur, but they were clearly outside.

I pulled into total wakefulness and stared into the darkness, paralysed, unsure of what to do, what I wanted to know. T had told me last night that she would most likely email me I took a deep breath and reached for my phone. The 'M', indicating new messages in my inbox, glowed balefully at me. I took a deep breath, pressed the Gmail icon and saw the subject line of my most recent email: "Obama wins". I grinned, lay in the dark for another couple of minutes, then saw another email from T - "Mitt Romney", telling me he'd conceded. I turned on the light and flew down the steps to turn on the telly, only to see Mittens hugging his family, knowing it was over. 

Knowing I'd never get back to sleep, I nipped into the shower, got dressed and headed in for the 07.30 mass.

Back in 2009, a certain clerical friend couldn't resist teasing me: "She gets this smile on her face every time she says, 'Barack Obama'," he said, claiming my smile looked very much like the Reality side of this picture (he might not be wrong; I couldn't possibly comment).

Couldn't resist stopping by him and whispering in the pre-mass silence, "I STILL smile when I say 'President Barack Obama'," which earned me a trademark look.

After mass, I went to light 2 candles - one in thanksgiving for a peaceful election and one for a first birthday girl, and briefly ran into Fr Jerome setting up for mass in the Lady Chapel. I motioned that I was just lighting candles and whispered that I was very pleased with the election result.

He looked puzzled, asking if there had been an election recently.

I suggested there might have been one somewhere out West, and he nodded in agreement. I added that at least we wouldn't be run by crazy capitalists, then went, 'But wait...'

He responded, 'Does it really make any difference?'

In a moment of cynical defensiveness, I shook my head and said, 'No.'

Fr Jerome, I'd like to change my answer. I know you'll let me because you are as committed to learning, introspection and analysis as my grandfather was - and if through that process, one comes to a different conclusion, then you, like he, would insist that one's answer must change - it's a matter of integrity.

Though maybe in my case, I just hadn't thought yet, because I was afraid to be vulnerable in my hope, to stand up and say, 'Yes, yes it does matter, though I can't put it into words yet.'

So, Padre, I want to say, 'Yes. Yes, it does matter.'

You're right (ask me for that in triplicate and notarised, I don't say it often!) - in certain ways, it doesn't.  In many ways, money runs the show no matter who's at the helm. The parties aren't that different. Neither man would change the system to move it more in line with the Catholic social teaching we hold so dear. No one (at the moment) is going to be able to abolish the death penalty, say 'no more war', implement distributive justice. In that sense, maybe it doesn't seem to matter.

But in another sense, it matters very much indeed. 

See, Padre, I would argue that we don't really vote on policy, we vote a reflection: a reflection of how we see and define ourselves, of who we want to be, of what we believe, of our emotional state.

And that's where it made every difference.

Yes, we voted for a man who can get caught up in his own thoughts and paralyse his decision-making, who allowed himself to hobbled by Republican obstructionism, who didn't decisively bring an end to it, who should have listened more to his own LBJ (Rahm Emmanuel) when it came to working with Congress. 

We voted for a man who makes mistakes - but thinks about them, acknowledges them and can learn from them. We voted for a man who believes in process, in the right of all voices to speak, not in shutting down the voices that disagree with him:

Democracy in a nation of 300 million can be noisy and messy and complicated. We have our own opinions. Each of us has deeply held beliefs. And when we go through tough times, when we make big decisions as a country, it necessarily stirs passions, stirs up controversy. That won’t change after tonight, and it shouldn’t. These arguments we have are a mark of our liberty.

That we have elected a leader who is willing - even eager - to allow this room for dissent is a profound change from the fear-based years after 9/11, when civil liberties started disappearing faster than gin & tonic at a Catholic priests' convention held in Oxford.

We voted for a man who pushed through provision for affordable healthcare for all, despite shrill, angry opposition. Was it the version we'd all hoped for? Maybe not, but it was a start. We voted for a man who put his arm around a sobbing woman after a hurricane devastated her home. We voted for a man who loves his family fiercely in every action he takes, not just in every word he says. We voted for a man who listens and thinks before answering. We voted for a man who wrote back to a young girl, reassuring her that her unconventional family was perfect: "In America, no two families look the same. We celebrate this diversity...Our differences unite us. (as well as apologising for not being able to drop in for dinner)" We voted for a man who values education and opportunity for everyone no matter who they are.

We voted for a man who can laugh at himself - the most reliable sign of sanity.

We voted for a man who, as soon as it was over, reached across the divide to his opponent and let the bitterness of the campaign go.

And we voted for a man who holds, at the deepest level, that even as we are many, so are we one - that we are a society, not an aggregate of individuals. The antithesis of the Thatcher-Reagan worldview. 

Why does it matter? Because if you want to understand classroom dynamics, look to the teacher. A religious community, look to the abbot/prior/leader. A business, look to the CEO/founder. A school, to the principal. A country, to its leader. If you want to understand the system, look to the leader, who permeates and drives it with his values through his choices and actions.

The tangible results of the presidency may, in the end, not have been that different, because of the system. But  the atmosphere in which those choices and that discussion will be steeped ensures that the country which emerges will be profoundly different.

Yesterday, we voted for compassion over calculating, Ayn Rand-style selfishness. We voted for freedom of speech over fear. We voted for diversity over conformity, even as we voted for society over individualism. Yesterday, we voted to listen rather than screech. We voted for forgiveness over bitterness and sanity over self-righteousness. We voted for real but imperfect over slick and manufactured.

Yesterday, we peered out from behind years of fear, anger and tightly barricaded hearts and dared to dream:

I'm not talking about blind optimism, the kind of hope that just ignores the enormity of the tasks ahead or the road blocks that stand in our path. I'm not talking about the wishful idealism that allows us to just sit on the sidelines or shirk from a fight. I have always believed that hope is that stubborn thing inside us that insists, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that something better awaits us so long as we have the courage to keep reaching, to keep working, to keep fighting.

Yesterday, our stubborn country voted for that stubborn theological virtue: hope. And in that opening, even if it is just the tiniest sliver, to hope, to compassion, to dreaming, we opened the door to that greatest of theological virtues: love.

No matter how we cloaked it - voting against one person; for the lesser of two evils; for this issue or that issue - as a collective, that is what we did. We took a trembling step out from behind our fear with our clenched fists and moved uncertainly towards hope, opening our hands, even if just a little. We moved towards home.

So yes, Fr Jerome, it does matter. It matters very much indeed.

Friday, 26 October 2012

Myself on the couch - what about marriage and me?

In the midst of a deliciously deep email conversation, I was asked the following:

But what are your own plans - do you intend to marry, or are you a bachelorette, or are you secretly living the consecrated life?

I had thought the response would be difficult, but it just flowed from my keyboard, giving me new clarity along the way. So, since I offered advice on marriage to a hypothetical couple on my couch, it seemed only fair that I put myself next to Winnie and his honey jar - and do that very rare thing for me - show my emotional cards:

I want to be married and (G-d willing) have children if possible more than anything else in the world - it has always felt like my vocation. But I always swore, up and down, that I wouldn't end up in the loveless, horrible marriage my parents had. Granted it was arranged, but I've seen arranged marriages that at least rub along tolerably well; my parents' marriage was a form of hell. I was...12? 13? before I realised that people marry because they're in love with each other - that you could actually LIKE YOUR SPOUSE. That...has had a long-lasting effect, and I am extremely relationship-shy for fear of being trapped as my parents were and as we were in what was a desperately unhappy home. The minute they mentioned arranged marriage, I moved out, leaving them a note on the fridge. It's hard to be with a guy without that immediate panic attack feeling of 'Oh my god, he's going to trap me forever and it will be horrible' cropping up. Having said that, I don't think I've turned anyone away who was right for me; I just wonder where he is. I really hope he didn't get run over by a bus crossing the road to find me!! :-P

For me, marriage is so deeply holy, such a binding of souls, a real sacrament, I wouldn't DARE approach it unless I knew G-d, and not my boyfriend and I, had put it together. Anything other than that certainty would be a mockery for me; I couldn't do it. Vocation is such a deep thing, it's beyond words - I just don't mess with it, and try to trust G-d knows what he's up to, hard as I have found it over time. I trust He'll let me know. I don't want to step into a marriage because I feel I should be married; I want to marry because it's what G-d wants of me. I want to say those vows before G-d and KNOW that's what He wants for me, KNOW that I mean them heart and soul to this person and to G-d. Nick had a wonderful line in a wedding sermon: May you become so entwined with G-d and each other that you have no idea where your marriage ends and G-d begins. That sums it up for me.

I rarely dare dream - I'm too aware of how easily they're ridiculed or snatched away, but some dreams run too deep, are too much a part of every fibre of our being to be submerged or ripped out - or even discussed except with those who can be trusted with one's heart - and even that is difficult. 

For me, this is that dream.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

To a couple on the occasion of their wedding

I know of several couples getting or recently married. This is what I'd say to them if they were on my couch sitting next to Winnie-the-Pooh and his honey jar.

Much love and many congratulations on your wedding day.

I am always in awe of those who take this immense leap of faith - what in many ways, to me, feels like the ultimate leap of faith: joining one's life to another's in order to sanctify each other and reflect G-d's love to each other and the world. One of my favourite images of marriage comes from the Jewish tradition: [A] spouse is like a mirror that exposes the weaknesses of the other in a way which leads to growth. Growth into the person that G-d meant us to be when He planted us in the soil of our families and watered us with the love of so many who come into our lives: friends, kindred spirits, and now, your beshert.

You are meant to be true mirrors to each other, not the funhouse mirrors that society, or even some that we call friends, so often offer us: those who offer us the lie of uncritical adoration; those who demonize us and play to our insecurities; those who would manipulate us for their own ends; those who shore up our comfortable worlds and expect us to do the same for them. Your vocation with your beloved entails being true with each other at all levels - from keeping your vows to telling them what's true - always - especially when everyone else is not.  

So finding your beshert is not the rom-com 'happily ever after' that Hollywood promises us - light, fluffy, always smiling. You DO need that intangible chemistry, that undefinable, deep connection, that cannot be created if it isn't there at first - Hollywood isn't wrong about that. Where Hollywood fails is in showing us that real intimacy and deep relationship entail challenge and difficulty as well as happiness and laughter. But here's the secret: coming through the hard times brings something far more beautiful, more nuanced, more mysterious - and real.  Something always underpinned by real joy, no matter what troubles the surface: happiness, sorrow, anger. Truth at the centre of all you are - individually and together - will ring G-d's love out clear as crystal to the surrounding world.

How do you bring truth to the centre? Anchor yourself and the relationship in G-d. You pray for vision, that you are not seeing yourself or the other through a glass darkly, but clearly, with G-d's eyes. You love with everything you have. You speak what you know to be true with love. Communicate, communicate, communicate - nurture that precious G-d given connection by spending most of that time listening with an open heart: to G-d and to each other: listening with an eye to how you're going to respond is not listening. Be good friends, first and foremost. The genuine liking, respect, quality of attention and leeway we give our friends far too often goes AWOL in our intimate relationships. 

Whatever you do, stay in relationship. Is there an issue between you? Talk to each other, don't whinge to your friends or anyone who will tell you how right you are. Talk to each other, and don't ever stop. I mean, do breathe, take time for yourself, go out with your friends, pursue your interests and stuff. Being joined at the hip is unhealthy - you're individuals in relationship, not a mini-Borg. (Not to mention that doing things by yourselves keeps the mystery alive - there's always something new for you both to discover!) But always keep that channel of communication between each other open. 

Are you shaking with rage? Talk. Find out what's real, not what you think is real because your triggers have been pushed. Yes, you may need to step back and think, because there are things that should never be said, but let each other know you need that space. Saying 'I'm furious about this right now, I need some time to cool off, can I have [X amount of time] and then we'll talk?' and following through is the ultimate in healthy boundaries. Dropping out of relationship by cutting the other person off open-endedly, using what's popularly known as the 'silent treatment', is something else entirely. That says, "I am withdrawing my love, my presence and any opportunity for healing from you - from both of us." Don't go there. You will have broken your wedding vows - to be there 'for better or for worse', but even more foundationally, you will have broken the most basic vow of real relationship (genuine friendship, family, marriage, etc.): "I will be there and we will work through problems together." The silent treatment shatters those vows and removes emotional safety and sanctuary from the relationship - for both of you. 

The reasons it does for the recipient are obvious - their hands are tied; they cannot operate in the relationship to heal/correct their mistake; they are being punished for something they did/didn't do by having an important relationship suddenly stripped from them, with no voice - unable to put their side forward or set things right. How does it eliminate sanctuary for the instigator? By slamming the door, the instigator says, 'I don't trust myself when I'm angry. I don't trust myself in connection or in relationship. I don't trust love, because it hurt, so I will lock myself away.' You're imprisoning yourself, punishing yourself as much, if not more, than the other person - cutting yourself off from love, healing and depth of connection that the other wants to give you. You are freezing the person you care for into a whipping post for your rage (usually about so much more than the actual event - and the other person) based on a single incident, when you know they are so much more. You're cutting yourself off from emotional safety. Let yourself be touched, held, apologised to, by the other. Let them feel your pain and help you transform it. Let the reason you want to cut them off become the reason that your relationship becomes stronger and more true.

Even more destructive than silence is what is now fashionably termed 'snark'. We live in a city - a world - where snark is considered 'clever', where one's intellectual standing is exponentially increased by a smart putdown rather than thoughtful listening and argument; where clever snideness is more valued than compassion. 

But that is not what is true.

Sheathing your anger in humour so you don't have to own it doesn't make you clever, it makes you a coward and an asshole. Let's call a spade a spade: snark is not amused affection; it is not the affectionate teasing that is the mark of a good relationship. Snark is that death knell of all relationship: contempt. Let's not start with the British + Commonwealth/American divide, because I have never known anyone from any culture who was not being a passive-aggressive, cowardly asshole when they were being snarky to someone, constantly jabbing at them with edged comments, like the Chinese death by a thousand cuts - and that includes me. Irony is very different; it has a different emotional energy - it's about sharp human observation, something that moves us to see the world differently. Snark is about lashing out at another without consequences.

Afraid of your anger? I get it. It's a powerful emotion. But anger is simply energy that brings the message that something is wrong; something needs to change. Anger is the heat of the forge, with creative energy that can be channelled and shaped into passion, connection, action. Contempt is the chill of the void, like the Dementors of Azkaban or the Spectres of Cittagazze, sucking the soul out of anything living. It is lack of empathy, isolation, remaining stuck. As a therapist, I can tell you: give me anger or rage, and I can help save a relationship. Give me contempt, and the best I can do is try to ensure a separation with as little pain and bitterness as possible on both sides. Tease away  - but if snark starts to creep in, nip it in the bud by facing what's real.

See, here's the deal - creating an honest, safe emotional space is hard work. Trust me, I'm a therapist - it's my job, I do this consciously when I sit in that chair. It's bloody hard enough when you're not emotionally involved. When you are, when it's the most intimate of your relationships, it takes lashings of grace to do it at all. But it's absolutely essential, because close friendships, family, intimate relationships - they're all crucibles; they're our refiner's fire. That's where we push each other at the deepest places consciously through holding up mirrors and challenging, unconsciously by creating drama. With our nearest and dearest, we're going to hit those triggers no matter what. The only way that being in that crucible will sanctify us is if it is held in the safest, most real and most loving of spaces. It is when we are challenged at the deepest level that we must know we are held in the deepest safety, love and truth.

Having created  a safe space of love and truth anchored in G-d, trusting in emotional risk and grace - HAVE FUN. Laugh together long and often - there are few things more intimate. Revel in each other's company, as you would with a treasured friend. Touch each other - every time you pass each other by the stove or fridge, hold hands, snuggle on the sofa, brush back that lock of hair. Treasure the ordinary days, which are the threads of the tapestry that you will weave together. Shelter each other through the storms, share the view from ecstatic heights, build the history that only you two will know, hinted at by the shared looks and little touches caught by others when you're together. (Yes, the same ones that will embarrass the HELL out of your teenage children.)

Be each other's sanctuary - a place that is safe and real in a world that is fear and illusion. Challenge each other to become what G-d dreamt you would be when He made you. Be that true mirror. Should children come to bless and widen the circle of your love, remember that your marriage is the trunk of the family tree - nurture it, fill it with love and G-d's grace that overflows onto your children, giving them that most precious gift of being loved and of knowing how to love in G-d and the world. Every morning, wake to another day where you love, share and forgive, whatever your day may be - ordinary, rapturous, or heart-wrenching. Keep your heart open - life will tempt you to close it so you'll 'never be hurt again', but closing it will ensure your entombment whilst still alive. Better to be dead. 

If you cannot look at each other and make your wedding vows with every fibre of your being, walk away now, even if it is at the moment you say, 'I don't.' Marriage is a sacrament - there's a reason we use the word 'communion' - it is a binding of souls. Butterflies, nervous excitement, 'OMG, this is HUGE, but IAMSOEXCITEDTOBEMARRYINGMYPARTNER!' is a good sign. Feeling trapped, freaking out, 'I can't do this', and numbness are not symptoms of cold feet - they are G-d's way of saying, 'I didn't call you to this. YOU did. Stop. Now.' Listen to that, even if you're an atheist, no matter what it cost, what the guests think, however much it hurts you both at the time - better it should be put asunder now than ripped apart later.

But if you can speak those vows to each other, heart and soul, then love and keep loving - and watch life open doors that you couldn't even have imagined. Let your wedding day be the day of your marriage that you loved each other least - and let it be the day that you were deeply present as you made those vows to each other and bound yourselves together in the deepest way possible - branches touching, roots entwined.  

As per this blessing from the Sheva Brachot, I ask G-d:

"Grant perfect joy to these loving companions, as you did your creations in the Garden of Eden. Blessed are You, LORD, who grants the joy of groom and bride."

In closing, allow me to borrow a line from an absolutely amazing wedding sermon given by a priest friend: I overheard this when I was on the Lodge one Saturday (I'm totally nicking :-) this from now on as a blessing for friends getting married - credit given, of course):

May you become so entwined with G-d and with each other that you cannot tell where your marriage ends and G-d begins.

That is my prayer for you - today and every day. May each year find you deeper in truth, richer in blessings and more in love than the last.

Now go forth to love and be loved - the world and the future await you.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Dream log - falcon and flounder

Recently, I've been sleeping more deeply than usual. I can feel it on dropping and awakening: the drop and the ascent feel far deeper than usual. In part, I think, this is because it is now darker longer, and I can sleep more deeply in the mornings. But also, with a regular spiritual practice in place and ACIM exercises, something is shifting more deeply. 

I always dream vividly, but last night was another order of vivid - it was like travelling.

In the first dream, I was living in a huge flat - I have no idea where it was, but it was sprawling, with different sections and high ceilings. One night, I was home with a friend when we heard someone in another section. I dragged him over saying, 'We need to find out who it is and what is going on.' He reluctantly followed me across the HUGE paved outside area (patio? garden?) to the section where the kitchen and the dining room were, and we intercepted a scruffy man trying to steal two chairs from my dining room. Interestingly, they were the crap chairs my parents had at the breakfast table before my brother was born, with tacky black cushion seats.  We took them back (WHY????????) and turned him over to the police. There's a part of me that wishes we'd let him have them, but that's neither here nor there.

Then suddenly, I was in another house with flourescent lighting, with my parents(!), pacing back and forth in floods of tears, inconsolable, in a formal dress, moving my looped cross back and forth on its chain as if daring it to break. A close friend had died, and my parents kept trying to tell me it was fine, even as I sobbed that it wasn't, 'She's dead. She's DEAD, ok? I'm NEVER GOING TO SEE HER AGAIN!'

Something whispered and I moved from the centre of the house to the one floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall window that I could see, waiting.

My breath caught. We were high up in the mountains, clouds scudding by like light traffic on a motorway. It was almost as if the house was built into the rock, as I could see a natural rock ledge outside the window. The sky was the colour of a dying campfire, deep yellow, red and orange as the sun set. Suddenly, a movement on the ledge caught my attention: birds were gathering in a hushed flock, looking through the window at me - cardinals, sparrows, raptors, all sorts. Suddenly, when the ledge was almost full, they went preternaturally still, looking out towards the blazing sky expectantly. My eyes followed theirs and I saw a large shape on a nearby mountain peak. "Gyrfalcon," I thought. "Gyrfalcon."

"Irim," I felt it say as it spread its wings and soared towards us, gracefully landing in the one empty space on the ledge, at which point all the birds turned back towards me. 

It was...stunning. Its was huge, the size of a large cat or small dog, I guessed - patterned in brown and black, with an odd peacock-like plume arching tailward from the middle of its back, but  I was caught by was its mesmerizing eyes - black centre ringed with gold. We stared at each other, its gaze full of utter love and compassion for me, trying to hold my grief in its heart and wingspan. "It's going to be ok." He took a step forward, continuing to gaze at me, trying to wrap me in his love and reassurance, as he tried to send me a message - not in words, but in that deep telepathic rapport that one could only wish was an option for communication. As my grief eased, I woke. 

This morning, I had to look it up. 'Gyrfalcon' first, assuming that this glorious bird was, in fact, a gyrfalcon. Shape-wise, perhaps, but the eyes were those of a hawk. They had to be gold-ringed. None of the interpretations of a falcon in one's dreams fit at all, and it wasn't till I found that in falconry, only a king could use a gyrfalcon, that I thought: 

"Royalty. Kingship. G-d. Oh MY G-d. Horus." Goosebumps - I'd always thought of Horus as a hawk, but when I looked him up, I discovered that he's a falcon god. THAT was right.

 And then I realized - as any one of my friends reading this probably already has - I wasn't wearing a 'looped cross'. I was wearing an ankh.

But was Horus just Horus? What did he mean? G-d of Light? Was he an analogue of Jesus? Could he have been the friend that I associate with Horus in certain expressions/postures?

Will be turning that over for a while.


The flounder dream was as vivid, but considerably less exciting - I had this large goldfish bowl overcrowded with white/albino flounder which I could never leave because they kept jumping out and nearly dying of suffocation. I finally gave up on them and put them down somewhere and tried to leave them alone, but when I walked back to my place at the coffee table, there was one who had jumped out (on purpose, I swear). I nearly left him, but couldn't, and scooped him up, carried him over and dropped him in the fishbowl with a resigned sigh.

I was trying to work out a viable solution when I woke up. 

Pass, except for my tendency to pick up the wounded like a black suit picks up white cat hairs. 

Over to you, folks.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

A note on unconditional love

This evening, as I've been faffing online, desultorily chatting with friends, Q popped up with this:

Q: I love you!

Me [touched and taken aback, as Q is not given to such declarations]: ? I love you too!

Q: Just having a lousy day and saw you pop on, and it was, like a fresh breeze. "Oh look! Someone who's not a big ball of drama! I'm so glad she's my friend."

Me [currently in puddle of 'awwww!']: HUGS

Q: So, I thought I should tell you so.

Me: I've felt that way about you so much, I can't tell you.  The feeling is SO mutual. Added to that was, 'Oh look, it's someone who loves me no matter what!'

Q: Yeah, that too.  Even when I'm grumpy, I still love you.

Blinking back tears, I tried to work out, aside from the obvious, what had really hit me. I find it hard to hear that I'm loved; feeling loved is even harder. But this exchange hit me differently, and I pondered it for a few minutes.

Then it struck me - this: Even when I'm grumpy, I still love you.

Even when I'm grumpy. That was it. Not Even when you're grumpy, which essentially reads, 'Even when you're a crappy pain in the ass, I love you. Aren't you grateful? Aren't I wonderful?' but 'Even when I'm in a shitty, crappy, horrible inhuman mood, even when I'm not perfect or feeling loving, I LOVE YOU.'

Why not the first? Because unconditional love assumes the first. Unconditional love is just that - 'No matter what, I love you.' It rarely, if ever, needs saying, because it's a premise, a foundation, of love. Anything else is just approval. 

[ETA] Also, as Ari just pointed out, when you love someone, you're not thinking, 'They're at their crappiest. Ugh. I want to be elsewhere.'  You're thinking, 'How do I make them feel better? Have I made it worse? What can I do?'  You are just loving them - you want their suffering to stop; you want them to be happy.

That doesn't mean that it's always feeling sweetness and light, far from it. Real love has darkness, depth and edges as well as light and curves, encompassing the entire spectrum of emotions - or lack thereof. We don't always FEEL love.

As I said to another friend as I was trying to tease it out:

It's the knowing when you can't FEEL it that matters. E.g., it's a given that I love you no matter what. That I loved you in October 2010 when we had that massive fight. I knew that; there was no question that no matter what happened - I loved you. It was knowing it through my absolute rage that was the test.

Not through HER rage or HER actions, thinking, 'Oh, you're acting like this, I still love you.' NO. Love cannot be withdrawn; approval can. Love simply is, and no matter how we act out our humanity, unconditional love is there, so much bigger than we imagine, holding the space for us to be ourselves as we unfold through the storm, whether we are imploding or battering at those around us. 

What matters is knowing through MY rage, my imperfection, my inability to feel it at the time, that the love is there - like the stars during the day or the blue sky behind the darkest storm. 

THAT is the test. THAT is what is real.

No matter what, I love you. Even when I'm grumpy.

Friday, 17 August 2012

A Course in Miracles - Lessons 7, 8 & 9

Crazy, crazy week, so I've missed the last three posts! Not that anyone minds, since these are my Irimesque musings, but I did tell MYSELF I'd blog each lesson, so no Irim biscuit - though I've ordered dinner :-).

Thanks to ACIM, 7, 8 & 9 make a natural trinity: "I see only the past," "My mind is occupied with past thoughts," and "I see nothing as it is now."

Again, they were only to be practised four times a day for a minute or so each time, but I found them drifting through my mind at various times during the days, so I used them. I found something interesting - they kicked up a sense of something...sitting in my solar plexus. Not just the sticky sensation that I've talked about earlier, but a rock. A heavy jagged rock that just filled the space and sat there, made me feel ill. I did it with people; I did it with objects; I knew it for truth. I realised how rarely I saw anything on my walk in to work, as my head was turning things over; I'd be at work, having missed people I knew, the beauty of the trees, kids saying things to their parents that would make me cry with laughter.

Wednesday, I practised "I see nothing as it is" with the sanctuary at solemn mass - and realised it was true in the most startling of ways as the procession moved out of the sacristy. When I saw the celebrant, I thought, 'Makes sense, as it would be a Provost's feast,' only to realise, with a start, that I wasn't looking at the current provost. I wasn't seeing him as he was, any more than I saw anyone else, except for those I didn't know, as they are now. 

And that's how it is for all of us, isn't it? Those we know, those we claim the greatest intimacy with, are the ones we assume we truly see - when really, we don't see them at all. They're the ones we're most likely to use as commodities - to stuff our wounds; to contain our emotions; the ones we assume we know, and so we don't look any further; the dog we kick when we're having a bad day.

With those we claim to love and treasure the most, we do not see them as they are now.

They deserve that from us - the wondrous curiosity; the joyful exploration; the rigorous honesty; all of who we are - light and shadow; sunshine and thunderstorm; joy and sorrow. 

And yet, we give them the least of ourselves - either our best or our worst, but not our truth, not our complexity, not our nuance. We do not give them ourselves as we are now, because we refuse to see them as they are now.

It's time to give ourselves - and those whose lives we touch - a present.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

A Course in Miracles, Day 6

I am upset because I see something that is not there. 

Thus beginneth lesson 6.

Well, ain't THAT the truth.

I have to say, though, it didn't work so well for spiders...

...but when it came to situations that WERE upsetting me, even slightly, this kicked ass.

Unlike my calm, more laid-back friends, I weave stories around what's happened. This is a result of growing up in a household full of subtext, where things looked fine on the surface, but you had to work out what was REALLY going on.

This became my normal, and so I did a lot of 'deep practice' when it came to piecing together stories of what was really going on. Very few people can read - or even pick up the presence of - subtext like I can.

What this means is that I am absolutely fantastic at surviving a dysfunctional atmosphere; in fact, it feels like home. I'm not happy, but I know how to work it, though I often break through tacit agreements to keep silent - my ability to navigate dysfunction is in tension with my need to force subtext into the open.

Give me a healthy relationship/environment? Much, much harder. If it's all on the surface, it takes me a while to work that out; I keep looking for the bomb under the sofa, occasionally checking that there aren't any. I'm torn between wanting to just relax - no, make that collapse - into it and totally mistrusting it.

This exercise is a brilliant way to begin to nuance that, so I use that real talent when appropriate, but let it go when it's not.

I gave one example in yesterday's post, where I actually combined lessons 5 & 6 with person X, because I'd had time to analyse.

Today, I used it at church with parents putting prams in aisles (I'm annoyed at parents putting prams in aisles because I'm seeing something that's not there (selfishness).); work (I am worried about the QAA self evaluation document because I'm seeing something that's not there (incompetence at admin writing).); friends ('I'm annoyed at Y being late because I'm seeing something that isn't there (they don't value my time).') I used it for deeper situations as well, to begin to untangle them.

It works - the emotion eases immediately, and I'm more open to see what's really there. I can let go of the victim stance, the sense of being attacked (by myself or others), and I have freedom to move, to decide from love.

And if the subtext or negative reason really IS there? Then I can still act from love - because just as rock trumps scissors, love trumps fear.

A Course in Miracles, Day 5

I am never upset for the reason I think.

This idea, like the preceding one, can be used with any person, situation or event you think is causing you pain. Apply it specifically to whatever you believe is the cause of your upset, using the description of the feeling in whatever term seems accurate to you.

One of my closest friends called me on deflecting in my blog entry last night, and she was absolutely right. The early exercises had pulled enough away to leave me feeling internally raw, and three tough sessions Wednesday night hadn't helped. I was actually feeling, and deflecting made it coping easier. The early ACIM blogs had been intense, I was processing, I knew today wouldn't be easy. Being an INFJ means I'm an extraverted Feeler, so I process feeling out loud. Yesterday wasn't one of the days I wanted to. Yesterday was about putting it in the crucible of my strongest function, introverted Intuition. 

Today may hover between the two. I won't be sure till I really start writing.

So. Lesson 5.

This is something I've done for years, though not quite in this way. This is something I use when something carelessly spoken upsets me, or I'm overreacting to some woman's (perceived) playing helpless or a priest who has the pastoral ability of Ted Bundy. It's one I use when someone lashes out to be able to avoid my natural tendency to lash back - and it often allows me to hold the space and respond in a much calmer way, though when I do, I tend not to challenge the person on their reaction, and need to learn to do so much more, so that the response is more authentic and balanced. But that's a different entry.

Today's exercise was very apropos, because there was one situation in particular that really needed this, but I knew I needed to follow the instructions:

There are no small upsets. They are all equally disturbing to my peace of mind.

So, though the most difficult one first popped into my mind, I made sure to do easier ones too:

I am not afraid of spiders for the reason I think (they scuttle weirdly and unpredictably and have too many legs).

I am not irritated by my computer going to sleep at random intervals for the reasons I think (because I'm in the middle of doing something).

But happy thoughts needed including too:

I am not happy about GB winning the gold for the reason I think.

I am not enjoying FB banter for the reason I think (e.g., being connected).

The lesson doesn't require one to analyse, so I attempted not to do that, and managed it for most of them. To be honest, it was actually a relief. 

But all of them, in the end, were like the event horizon around a black hole, leading to the situation that really needed this exercise:

I am not angry at and feeling hurt by X for the reason I think. 

This situation has gone on for a while, so I've had time to analyse it, to dig into why I feel the way I feel. I'm aware my feeling is out of proportion, making any kind of bridging difficult at the moment, though it's what I most want. Part of that is that without connection and communication, it becomes very easy to caricature someone, to remove their complexity, to forget who they really are. 

Our imagination makes them a vessel, a touchstone, a lightning rod: we may be upset for real, legitimate reasons, but the longer things remain unresolved, the easier it is to make the person the focus of ALL our anger, pain, rage. After all, they're not there to disabuse us of our created image of them, based in selective truth on what we know of them, creating a 'flat Stanley' that suits our need for something to contain for us.

Case in point. WHY do I think I'm angry at/feeling hurt by X?

My story is that X is knowingly acting like my father, aware of how painful that trigger is, to punish me for something I've done.

Written out, how much sense does that really make? 

It doesn't. And it speaks of me, not of X. It speaks to my lack of trust, to my expectations of others, to the amount of past pain I still hold. It speaks to how my projection is my perception here.

But it also speaks to my willingness to allow myself to open up to others enough to allow myself to feel this hurt and to still want to bridge the distance more than anything else.

It reminds me that X is simply being X, and incorporating an earlier lesson: I don't understand fully. I need to remain open to know what is true. 

I cannot close my heart. I cannot say, 'I accept this about you, but not this. I love you if you do this, but not this.' I grew up with that, and I know that is not truth. That is not love, not even human love. Love encompasses everything - laughter, joy, sorrow, pain, anger, being let down, letting another down, the times we are hurt and the times we hurt. That doesn't mean one is uncritically adoring: that isn't love for an addict or someone caught in a dysfunctional pattern. Love rejoices in the truth, and truth means holding up a mirror and challenging even as it means affirming and reassuring. 

Love is a place where it is safe to unfold fully into who we really are. Love allows mistakes and comes out stronger from them. Love heals, love connects, love holds everything.

Love is real. Nothing real can be threatened.

So, Irim, unclench your hands and your heart and relax. What is real cannot be threatened. You're not upset for the reason you think. You don't know what it is yet - and in fact, what you're really feeling may not be what you think you feel. You are not yet sure what is true.
Breathe. And pray.

And so I borrow this prayer from Marianne Williamson, slightly edited:

"G-d, please help me. I can't do this. Right now, I'm finding it hard to see this through Your eyes, to see this with love. Wherever I have strayed from love and acted out of fear - been angry, controlling, manipulative, needy, selfish - whatever it is, I'm willing to see it differently. Help me see clearly. Help me see through Your eyes. Help me be open, listen, hear the truth. Thy will, through me, be done. Amein."

Wow, that shift from a single exercise. Not bad for a day's work. Roll on, lesson 6.

Friday, 10 August 2012

A Course in Miracles, Day 4, or 'The evening I was distracted by (almost) naked men'

Right. Irim, focus.

I must confess, I'm finding it hard to write this blog entry with the men's platform diving going on in the background. They do wear their speedos a bit low on the hips...

*Shakes head to try to focus.*

ACIM. Spirituality. (Not that spirituality can't encompass a, erm, healthy appreciation of physicality...)

Lesson 4.These thoughts do not mean anything. They are like the things I see in this room [on this street, from this window, in this place].

So today, I take lesson 1 and apply it to my thoughts.  Clearly, they know me too well, because the directions say: Do not, however, examine your mind for more than a minute or so. You are too inexperienced as yet to avoid a tendency to become pointlessly preoccupied...Do not repeat these exercises more than three or four times during the day.

Busted. Oh, and much easier than yesterday, not least because I've practised something similar to this when I've been angry, though tomorrow's lesson is pretty much EXACTLY what I do. This means that when I am absolutely furious and want to lash out, this is one of my interrupts, and it is brilliant. It gives me room to stop, breathe and respond in a more loving way. 

So it was interesting to use them on non-angry thoughts - at first, I didn't think there was a difference, but the second time through, I had that feeling of something sticky being pulled away from the inside, leaving more space, making things clearer, sharper. Since I followed instructions, I can't offer a lot more than that at the moment, but having peeked ahead, I know that tomorrow's exercise may be familiar, but it will kick my ass, because stuff IS being loosened and I am feeling a less numb.

I hadn't expected the early exercises to do that - I simply expected them to 'train the brain'. Clearly, they're making room for emotional stuff too. 

Roll on, tomorrow. And not just because it's Saturday and the men's platform diving final...

Thursday, 9 August 2012

A Course in Miracles, Day 3, Or, "Oh my G-d, Day 3 made me want to flip the bird at spiritual practice."

The ego cannot survive without judgment.

Today, lesson 3. Sounds easy enough, right?

Oh so very wrong.

Today, I had to get up early to open up at work, which robbed me of my few minutes of text reading and grounding for lessons, as I was rushing out the door and too tired to set my alarm clock much earlier.

"I do not understand anything in this room." "I do not understand anything about that tree." "I do not understand anything about that bus." "I do not understand anything about that coffee (as I was making it)."

Not feeling settled. 

I understand that it's about letting go of judgment and allowing room for curiosity,  but saying that felt like a lie. There are things I DO understand. I might have managed better if I'd been able to say 'I don't understand X completely' or something else, but there was huge resistance today. 

In the evening, it was slightly easier at church: "I do not understand anything about the crucifixion." (True) "I do not understand anything about the English translation." (Also true - why not just lift from the 1962 missal?) "I do not understand anything about X (person)." 

Ah. Breakthrough. Now, that was someone I didn't know. Someone I DID know?

Bummer. Resistance back, but not so much. Because one can never know EVERYTHING about someone; most of us don't know anything close to everything about OURSELVES.

The resistance? Pride. I pride myself on being able to read people/dynamics very well, and, barring my being hijacked by my issues, that is borne out. If I had a penny for the number of times I heard, 'No, no, you're wrong. No, REALLY, IRIM, YOU'RE WRONG!' followed days/weeks/months later by, 'Erm, you know what you said that I didn't want to hear? You were right,' Bill Gates and I would be discussing investment portfolios.

So to say, 'I don't understand anything...' doesn't ring true. 

But. But if I do it in the awareness that it's about becoming curious, finding out something new, allowing room - the resistance eases. The pride is still there, but the resistance is residual.

What if I turn it to a current situation, one I'm finding difficult?

"I don't understand anything about this situation."

OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO. Oh. THAT helps. Feeling something like a plaster wall falling in my solar plexus, leaving more space. That feels clearer.

Why? Because this is a story I've created. 

With no idea of the full picture, I've woven a story from the pieces that I see, and made judgments based on the story. But I'm not sure what's real. 

In this case, I really don't understand anything about this situation.

And it is HERE that lesson 3 works its magic, opening me up to new possibilities, shifting me away from a story that is very negative and tied to my triggers, to a curiosity, a desire to find out what is true. It takes me to a place where I can judge not and be deeply still - not just leashing myself - and truly listen.

Yes, I pride myself on my intelligence and ability to understand quickly and fully. But that pride can mean that I stop learning and growing, because I think I know.

Sometimes, perhaps the greatest power is in that variant of 'I don't know' - 'I don't understand anything about...'

So You who created all and understands all, teach me...

...I'm finally starting to listen.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

A Course in Miracles, Day 2

I have given this flying cow all the meaning it has for me.

Hey, who said ACIM practice had to be po'faced? That had to be one of my favourite choices for today's 2nd lesson from the ACIM Workbook.

But it wasn't all fun and games. If I commit to a spiritual practice, it has a tendency to kick my ass as soon as possible. This morning, I wasn't even halfway up the road to the bus stop, merrily noting that I'd given the recycling bin all the meaning it has for me, when I heard an anxious voice behind me asking, 'Excuse me, excuse me, but can you tell me where to catch the #2 bus?'

I felt my shoulders tense. 

Here's one of my many dirty little secrets: I have real issues with Southeast Asian women on first meeting. Why? Because, in far too many encounters, I've run into ones who use high, breathy voices to manipulate;  totter like toddlers to look like little girls; and blink rapidly at you when asking a question, widening their eyes and playing utterly helpless, hoping to get what they want. My internal, unspoken response is, 'I'm a straight woman, sweetheart. It isn't going to work on me. It's just going to make me want to slap you.'

There are not words for how deeply I despise women - of any ethnicity - who do this. My mother, a South Asian woman who became a paediatrician, pulled this helpless shit. I comforted her, confided in her, then watched as she betrayed me to my father, excusing herself in that helpless, whiny voice, 'I HAD to tell him.You know what he's like.' 

Ja. And I have your number too, bitch. Don't think I'll be forgetting it anytime soon.

Back to this morning. I responded tersely, then relented slightly and expanded, as I paused and turned to see a young Chinese woman in heels drawing level, following me to the bus stop.

Once we got there, I thought, 'Incorporate into ACIM exercise. So I glanced at her as she passed me to sit in the bus shelter and thought, 'I have given Southeast Asian women all the meaning they have for me - the helplessness, the victimhood, the manipulativeness.' 

A wall gave way. Suddenly, I remembered that I have a friend who wears a hijab and has read 50 Shades. People aren't stereotypes.

Then who should walk up to the bus stop but a South Asian male, another one of my 'Spike defence from Hellraiser' inducers. Straight to the exercise: 'I have given South Asian men all the meaning they have for me.' Slight easing at the time, but a bigger result in the afternoon, when I passed a South Asian man as I got off the bus and smiled at him. 

Yeesh. Not my favourite part of myself, but it felt good to grapple with it head on so early. And I know I'll need to come back to this everywhere: social gatherings, church, in the centre of town, cyclists...

Why, some may ask, am I relishing an early ass-whooping? Because I've always found that it means I'm ON THE RIGHT PATH. To quote Marianne Williamson:

I had read about people surrendering to G-d and then feeling this profound sense of peace descend like a mantle over their shoulders. I did get that feeling, but only for about a minute and a half. After that, I just felt like I'd been busted. This didn't turn me off to G-d as much as it made me respect His intelligence. It implied He understood the situation better than I would have expected.

THIS. For me, being busted on two of my biggest prejudices within 2 minutes of each other? THAT is divine intervention. THAT is real. When that happens, I know not only that I'm being challenged, but also that I'm not going to be left alone in meeting that challenge. I'm ready, G-d. Let's do this. After all, we both know that I can't.

Others may say, 'OMG! You're showing yourself to be prejudiced and having ugly thoughts sometimes! You can't do that!!!'

Why not? I don't want to be good. I want to be real. I want to be WHOLE. And that means embracing everything: light/shadow; harshness/gentleness; compassion/judgment; all of it. Own it. I want to know it all, to encompass it all as only love can, and then I want to give my WHOLE self to G-d. Why come to G-d, holding one hand behind my back, hiding bits I don't think He'll like or want? He's given me free will, and He'll only take those bits that I offer. He can't transform what's hiding behind my back, and that's what I most need him to transform. Keeping it from Him just defeats the purpose.

Also, I'm just so done with lying in relationships, you know? Hiding who I am, pretending to be what I'm not. Doing that with my Creator would make me ask myself, 'Irim, are you on crack? Don't you think He knows already, DUH?'

Yes, I talk to myself. So sue me.

So here I am - the good, bad and the ugly. This spiritual journal will be snarky, self-deprecating, introspective, passionate, zany, and totally real. I hope you enjoy it, but if it's not your cup of tea, reading this takes up too many minutes of your life you won't get back. Spend them doing something you love.

Meanwhile, remember: you have given flying cows all the meaning they have for you.
Just as I have given golden, late summer sunsets and the redolent scent of honeysuckle all the meaning they have for me. 

And I wouldn't have it any other way.