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.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

A Course in Miracles, Day 1

It is the privilege of the forgiven to forgive.

So, as I mentioned in yesterday's post, I was going to repeat Lesson 1 from ACIM morning and evening today.

Morning, I did it walking into work. "That tree doesn't have any meaning."  "That house doesn't have any meaning." "That car doesn't have any meaning." The workbook recommends only doing it twice a day, but that's not my style. Once I have an idea or a practice, I tend to want to turn it over and play with it, so occasionally during the day, I'd think, "That computer has no meaning." "That bookcase has no meaning." Then I went up a gear and thought, "That comment has no meaning." "That interaction has no meaning."

For someone who prides herself on being able to read interactions/emotions/subtext well, it made for a very interesting few moments - very uncomfortable ones, at that.

But then, something started to happen, even before my evening exercise (which was conducted in the familiarity of my own lounge. Let me tell you, brown sofas DEFINITELY have no meaning!). I felt more of the stickiness pulling away from the inside. 

Suddenly, there was a sense of spaciousness. It flickered, light a candle flame in a breeze, but it was there. Everything seemed slightly sharper, even as I felt slightly removed - though very focused, as if I was wearing this reality lightly. It's there, tentative, tenuous, but there. And it's important.

And it clicked, in part because of something chrysalisjourney said about not holding onto stories during an online chat yesterday - this exercise isn't about dehumanising or stripping things of their beauty or richness, it's about letting go of what we've assigned to them. It's creating an emptiness that allows things to be what they are, not what we want them to be. Hence the next lesson, which reminds us that we've given things stories and meanings, which means we forget to be curious about things; to ask questions  and discover what they are, to see them as they are, not as we are, to borrow from the Talmud.

It's about beginner's mind, being open, learning rather than imposing, not using things and meanings and certainty about how things are to block/avoid/cover our pain, our reality. It's about opening up to what is real and allowing it to find us.

And once we let go of that investment, that need for things to be a certain way, it becomes far easier to let go - of defences, of needing to control what's around us, of that which does not serve us, of manipulating/using others to 'fix' us - not least in the guise of us 'fixing' others. 

This is the first lesson, the first step, to forgiveness.

And knowing that we have been freely forgiven - by G-d, by those who love us freely - it then becomes our privilege to forgive.

Monday, 6 August 2012

A Course in Miracles - Introduction

In this sense, everything that comes from love is a miracle.

 For years - more years than I care to admit to - this phenomenon? way of being? - has been chasing me. It's been the basis of so many other books I've read; the topic of discussion so often; the book that's fallen my way so often and been turned away. 

I've stopped avoiding other things; it was time to meet this head on too. And I don't think it was coincidence that the week I started decluttering and really listening to someone who said, "You're not ALLOWING her to do it - let her DO it," and letting go was the same week I decided to face ACIM head on.

Before, the resistance was just that - resistance. I wasn't interested in exploring it; ACIM was just not going to happen. So gradually that I'm not even sure how it happened, the resistance crumbled - the closest I can come is that the more references I read to it, the less cult-like and wacky it seemed, and the more principles I found that were in alignment with my own. Also, as my sense of self strengthened, I was less worried about becoming engulfed by something so all-encompassing and feeling trapped by the daily practice and long haul. I'm strong enough now to take what resonates and leave what doesn't.

I was looking for a daily spiritual practice, and ACIM has a ready-made one that looks like it will stretch me. Sold. So I ordered on Saturday.

Whilst patience may be a virtue, it's not one of mine - so I couldn't resist looking up the first few lessons. This evening, after the book arrived, I thought I'd try the first lesson at mass, since religion is a real crucible for me - baptism by fire, I figured. It's recommended that one not spend more than a few minutes on it, and there are enough lulls in mass that this was possible. 

Following the instructions that 'nothing you see should be specifically excluded', I went for it and noted my reactions to each:

"That window does not mean anything."
"That tabernacle does not mean anything."
"That statue does not mean anything."
"That altar does not mean anything."
"That station of the cross does not mean anything."

Most garnered no resistance, just shifted perception - things felt a bit sharper, I felt almost like something 'sticky' was shifting. The closer I got to the Eucharist, the stickier it became - but people were an absolute 'That's BULLSHIT. They DO mean something.' I had no problem with 'The office of the priesthood does not mean anything,' - because that IS constructed - but when it became the person in question? That was an absolute WALL of resistance - and I think that's right.

I'll repeat this exercise in a less charged arena tomorrow - on my walk into work and before I go to bed; then continue on Wednesday with its natural follow-up, 'I have given everything I see all the meaning it has for me.' Even with people, THAT is true. I've imbued them with meaning and significance for me. No one else has, though obviously, I did not grow up in a vacuum - and all those who've touched me and the culture I've grown up in have a huge influence on my perception and inclinations, but in the end, the story I've woven is mine, and mine alone.

What did surprise me when I did this first lesson, and I'm curious to see if it continues on my first real day with the exercise, was what happened as all the sticky stuff shifted. As I finished the exercise, I thought, 'Holy mother"£$%^&^%$£$%^&%$, IT HURTS. IT REALLY, REALLY HURTS.' There was a sudden...rawness, a sudden intense pain, and I suddenly realised how much I was stuffing/numbing with the attachment to meaning of various things - the pain was intense, but it was a clean pain, something real. 

And something I'm looking forward to exploring - hopefully every (probably most) days through journalling it here. Everyone's welcome, and I look forward to thoughts/challenges/comments.

ACIM - bring it on.