Tag Archives: life

The art work in self-love

Acrylic painting of flowers as eyes - pinks and greens

I’m a late-bloomer, boomer when it comes to self-love.

When I first started blogging my spiritual diary, I was desperate to get rid of the inexplicable ‘yearning’ that has relentlessly dogged me all my life. It’s a persistent gnawing hum of longing that does not abate. And the roar was getting louder. I knew if I did not do something about this ‘yearning’, I would drown in its wake. The yearning

I began where I often find most comfort when life gets tough. I started writing down my feelings and thoughts. A central theme decorates my Fiftypluskiwi writings – God and love – for both have woven a well-trodden path of bittersweet moments in my life, and both, as I have come to understand, are connected. But when I started writing I knew nothing about self-love or, of the relationship between God and self-love.

I grew up in an affectionless family, where anything remotely emotive was considered ‘namby pamby’. Emotions were something to be ridiculed, crushed or criticised. Love was a vanity to be confessed rather than affirmed. From an early age, I learned to shape myself around those narratives handed down to me.

A child raised without love and affection will usually become an emotionally impoverished adult. That was me. How I felt didn’t count. And when I did feel, it was bad. Because of this I lived for years with a confused, poor self-image. I believed everyone knew better than me, and everything was better than me. I never considered the fact I had any sort of validity, or that self-love was anything more than a hippie concoction.

‘If you don’t love yourself, you cannot love others. If you have no compassion for yourself then you are not able of developing compassion for others’.  Dalai Lama.

The most important relationship in your life is the relationship you have with yourself. Self-love is often mistakenly seen as being selfish or self-seeking. But self-love means accepting, respecting, and valuing myself as the person I was created to be. The longing for love and acceptance is one of those life-threads that link us all. We search for it everywhere, through other people, power, pleasure, wealth, success, beauty and status. However, the full alchemy of love is inside you not outside. If we are to love others, we must start with ourselves. It is a matter for the heart, not the world.

Looking inside ourselves for love is usually the last place we look. But true love can only come out of you, it cannot come into you even though we spend our entire life trying to make it happen. And after years of trying, I have discovered this is impossible to do this without God. Anything else is just a relative.

The dictionary describes alchemy as the process of taking something ordinary and turning it into something extraordinary, sometimes in a way that cannot be explained. They use an example of a person who takes a pile of scrap metal and turns it into beautiful art. I can’t think of a better description to illustrate self-love.

The real alchemy, the way that cannot be explained, happens on the inside. God is that alchemy. There is nothing we can do but allow self-love to unfold. To love ourselves fully, we must first accept God’s unconditional love for us. Self-love is the quietest of all the loves. It doesn’t seek or depend on rules and regulations to exist. It doesn’t have to prove anything to exist. It wraps its arms around you so you can be that love for others.

What a journey! Many twists, bends and dead ends. And I’m not there yet. I’m not sure anyone does get there. It’s is a lifelong process. It wasn’t until I started exploring the yearning that self-love, or lack of, became visible. But what I can tell you is that the gnawing hum of longing is abating. No longer does it deafen me with its noise. I feel like I’ve arrived home after being away for many years.  My yearning has been turned into a beautiful piece of art. And I thank God for that.

Life is not an entitlement

Life is a gift? It’s one of those clichés we all know but often give little attention to.

I certainly had no plans to use it or write about it. I didn’t even think about life as a gift, so, no one was more surprised, when, during a yoga class, the words, ‘Life is not an entitlement – life is a gift,’ entered my mind with such clarity and importance, I at first thought the yoga instructor had spoken them in a state of meditative bliss. As it turns out, it was one of my ‘moments of God’. Something that happens to me from time to time.

I had a fleeting sense something had shifted inside me. Did I take life for granted? Did I assume I was entitled to life?  Yes, perhaps I did. Once I removed the assumption I was entitled to life, I felt an immense appreciation and understanding of the preciousness of life. Of gratitude. Of how fleeting, fragile, precious and irreplaceable every moment is, between our first and last breath.

Life is but a breath. We don’t think of life as being so fragile. It is not until someone is dying, diagnosed with a chronic disease, we get old, or when we see or hear something terrible happen around us that we catch a glimpse of the fleetingness and fragility of life.

People don’t want to hear that life is a gift, but until we truly understand that each day is a gift, we can waste life so easily. Feeling entitled to life is a trap. How many lives have been wasted because someone said, ‘I have the right to have, to get rid of, to control, to take.  It is my right.’ Entitlement is rampant.

Author Cynthia Occelli says we feel we have a right to material abundance, comfort, physical beauty, zero-problems, careers, adoring relationships, good health and all the other things our entitlement culture tells us we deserve.

  “There’s nothing wrong with wanting all these things, or pursuing these things, but life doesn’t owe you anything. It doesn’t owe you perfect or even good parents. It doesn’t owe you health, happiness, abundance, success, comfort, or immunity from pain and problems. It doesn’t owe you a job, a house, a bed, or a single meal. No one owes you kindness, love, recognition, empathy, apologies, or understanding. You aren’t entitled to a single thing. Your family owes you nothing. Your government owes you nothing. No one owes you anything at all.”

Life is short, it is brief, and things can change in a split second. Not every moment will be magical. We are not owed a perfect life. We owe life to be the best we can be, whatever our circumstances. I read somewhere that life will only have meaning when we understand it as a gift, an amazing gift. When we see life this way it changes the way in which we view ourselves, our own lives, and the lives of others.

No, life is not an entitlement. It is a gift. But if these words were given to me, then they are also for you. Your life is just as precious as mine. And when I see your life as a gift, there is no way I would want to harm you. I wish we could all see each other this way. If you don’t understand the very fact that life is a gift all the beauty, wonder, love, and experiences to be found on earth are meaningless. Life is a gift, an incredible, wonderful, mysterious gift.

That damned ego

There’s a saying in yoga circles; ‘leave your ego at the door before you enter’.

I wish I had known this pearl of wisdom before I attempted my first yoga session. Having come from a running background I felt certain my ‘fitness level’ would serve me well for a simple yoga class.

My fellow yogis consisted of men and woman of all age, size, ability and disability. I could feel my competitive nature shift into gear as our instructor moved us into our first exercise, a standing forward fold or, more commonly known as, ‘touching your toes’.  ‘Poof!’ ‘Just how hard could this be,’ I thought.

As it turned out, very hard indeed.  My toes? I could barely touch my thighs! Muscles that served me so well in running, refused to budge. Legs wobbled like a pneumatic drill as they tried, and failed, to balance without the other. I felt like the human version of gobbledygook.

Finally, the soothing tones of the instructor led us into, ‘Savasana’, a lying down resting position. ‘Let us empty our minds,’ she crooned. At that point my eyes flew open. My mind revved into high gear, screeching and chattering with inane, pointless, non-productive mind chatter. I walked out of my first yoga ‘beginners’ class nursing an aching body and a sorely bruised ego.

 

The dictionary describes the ego as, ‘a person’s sense of self-esteem or self-importance.’  It is who I think I am, not who I really am. If I were to give my ego a physical description, I would liken it to a photo filter – a layer that slides over me, making me appear, better and greater than I really am. It turns out I have many of these layers. They fit so perfectly it is difficult to recognize the true me underneath them all.

There is nothing wrong with aspiring to become the hero of your dreams. Confidence is healthy. It’s the ego that is destructive as it begins to grow and take control of our life and our thoughts.

Having and ego is not the same as having confidence. When you have confidence, you have faith in your own abilities and believe in yourself, says writer, Cy Wakeman.

“But the ego is something else, entirely. Unlike confidence, the ego operates out of self-interest. It seeks approval, accolades and validation at all costs in order to be seen as “right…”. Confidence vs Ego

I read somewhere that a bad day for your ego is a good day for your soul.  I’ve had an awful lot of bad days if I’m to be honest. About ten years ago my personal unhappiness threatened to annihilate me. When I tried to ignore or run from my unhappiness, I would run smack bang into myself.  For the first time in my life I started to ask: Who am I? Why am I?  So much time had been invested in creating me from the ‘outside in’, I had given no thought to my ‘inside out’. I did not consider my spirit needed attention at all. A mid-life crisis? A break-down? Yes, probably both of those; but more than anything, it was my moment of reckoning. I did not know who I was.

When the ego clashes with the soul, life can get messy. Eventually I landed in a place I didn’t expect. I had to look within. And I didn’t really know how to access that part of me. But as I unraveled the messes of my life from the inside-out, I could see how my ego had been crafted from the tendrils of my past. The ego is constructed from past life experiences. It disguises fear, anxiety and loneliness with grandiose masks of self-importance.

It’s easy to delete the layers of filters on your phone. But to be laid bare without those layers in real life, takes courage. The ego does not want you to know your true self. To embark on a journey of self-discovery is threatening to the ego. It takes a lot of personal work to discover who you are, and not to be enticed by the illusions of the ego.

I am not my ego. But sometimes I still feel like I have an inbuilt default button, that overrides all commonsense and spiritual sensibility. It can happen in a split second and I find myself responding or behaving in a way that is not truly me. Like my yoga class; given that I have years of health of fitness knowledge, why did I think I could partake in my first yoga class believing I would be better than anyone else? The real me knows this is not possible. The answer is simple – it was my ego!

That damned ego!

What does a loving church look like?

The church is its people, not its religion. I think we’ve forgotten this.

Coffee with my yoga group is one of my more enjoyable moments of the week. Our conversations cover a wide range of topics – from the day-to-day routine of our lives, to the more complex issues around love and relationships. Sometimes conversation takes place as we traverse the hills of Papamoa, other times they are a quick one-on-one after class, but mostly they take place at our favourite cafe. Our banter is always lively, and everyone contributes from their perspective on life.  I feel safe with this group.  Safe to download, upload and explode. A couple of weeks ago I did just that, last week it was someone else’s turn. These conversations, this group of people, are precious to me.

Likewise, so is my conversation with my terminally ill friend. With Kirsty there is a piece of treasure in every conversation. We discuss, rant and rave about this God we love and seek to know better. Again, I feel safe having these conversations with Kirsty. Secure to voice my often-wavering and questioning faith. Safe to be who I am. And again, these conversations are incredibly precious to me.

Then there is my elderly neighbour. Our weekly coffee morning chats are most enjoyable. Her perspective on life is intelligent and interesting and I always leave with a sense of well-being from having had a good healthy, robust conversation with someone who knows their topic.

Although these conversations vary in subject and participants, one connecting strand links them; I am having conversations with people I feel safe with. Friends I can openly share how I’m feeling about my life at that moment.  I trust these people with the ups, downs and anguishes of my story, and they trust me with theirs.  You cannot intellectualise that feeling of ‘feeling safe’ it is something you just know. When I leave these people, I leave with all of me intact. My heart and soul unjudged and undamaged.  I feel loved. And I’ve been thinking about this – wouldn’t it be great if the church was like this.  A place for everyone to engage in robust, hearty discussion about God, life and love, and feel safe doing so. The church, becoming THE place for conversation.

For most people their first introduction to God is by going to church. I have always felt a bit like ‘a square peg in a round hole’ in church settings. And for years I have blamed myself. I have had such amazing experiences of God’s love so going to church should be a breeze. But it’s not. Dread and anxiety accompany me and euphoria escorts me out; a relief that I made it.  When I attend church, I feel like a lion being tamed for a circus. My experiences of God and love become masked by religion and religiosity and I sense life being sucked from me, as a woman and as a person. My joy. My weirdness and humour, my creativity and energy, all that my wonderful God created me to be, feels silenced.

God is becoming irrelevant the media are telling us, and statistics show declining church attendances across several denominations. We can blame this on external influences all we like, but the truth is, the church is doing a pretty good job of adding to the problem. As my friend Kirsty so accurately describes, love has been ‘trodden down under religious mores’.  Yes, God and religion are difficult to untangle. When we merge God with religion, we are in danger of extinguishing the real message of God – the message of love.  I think it’s time for the church to wake up.  Love is the by-product of God, not religion.  There is nothing, we need to do, or be, to experience God’s love.  God’s pure unadulterated, unfettered, untamed love is free for everyone.

Thankfully, the Bible presents us with a list of characteristics, a bit like a recipe, of what this love should look like.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy; it does not boast. It is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. (1 Corinthians 13: 4-8a, NIV)

There’s a lifetime of living in those 15 ingredients. The aching for love and acceptance is a strand of yearning that links all people. Thankfully there’s no time limit on love. It is the greatest weapon we have, but it cannot be forced or imposed on anyone. We must be the love. The church is its people, not its religion. I think we’ve forgotten this.

Let’s bring back the people. Revitalise love, using Corinthians 13 as a guideline. Make church a place for both believers and non-believers. A place to interact with people who are different than us in some way, whether it be culture, language, identity, or something else. A place for people to be listened to and heard. People everywhere having conversations, sharing their lives, making sense of their lives. Feeling accepted. Feeling safe. Feeling loved for who they are, where they are. ­­­

What an opportunity!  What would the Church look like for you if love was present?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It takes courage to love yourself

To love yourself you must know your real self, not your relative, conditioned self. (Deepak Chopra)

I have spent much of my life travelling on journey’s that were not mine to travel. Blind to my self-worth, unbelieving of my intuition, and deaf to my own inner voice. And, sadly, my parenting reflected this.  If there is one piece of advice, I wish I could go back and build into my daughters’ lives, it would be that self-love is the most important of all love’s.  That the most prized of all relationships they will ever experience, will be the relationship they have with themselves.

Once again, I’ve been catapulted into the space of the ‘unknown’.  My profound awakening of my feminine soul is taking all sorts of twists and turns, none of which I envisaged. I blurred the lines of freeing my feminine soul, with that of being a feminist. I imagined myself fighting the good fight for women’s rights. Being a Naomi Woolf for women’s souls. A noisy, unfettered, unapologetic roaring feminist. I couldn’t have been more wrong. That may well be the end-product, but for now, I have entered a space which quite frankly terrifies me. The discovery of my feminine soul has spiralled into a journey of self-love.

In my journal entry from a few weeks ago, I wrote,

“I feel really nervous. I can see there is a real danger when the feminine soul is released from captivity. I don’t know what to do with what is happening. I’m worried I’ll go astray with this. Oh, my feminine soul, help me. Lead me to the next step…pleeeease’.

And that’s all the soul needs – permission to lead. And as it turns out I have much to learn before reaching ‘activist’ status.

Author Sue Monk Kidd says the real issue is that women have to come to understand themselves as ‘central’, not ‘peripheral’. Before anything can happen, she says, women have to depend on themselves.

“This cannot be done against men, and that’s the real problem. It cannot be woman against man, it has to be woman finding her true self, with or without man, but not against man”.

Depend? What do you mean? True self? Everything about this statement rocked my world. I do not know how to depend on my true self. I have not done this since …. well… forever. Just thinking about it sent me into a panic.

One afternoon I decided to visit my panic. I turned my focus inwards to the place in my chest where I literally feel the anxiety. I saw a couple of knots. As one of the knots loosened a baby girl appeared. She was snuggled in a womb, wearing a white bonnet and covered in a white blanket. I knew I was that baby. I held the baby’s face in my hands and covered her with little kisses, told her how beautiful and precious she was.  Me, telling me, how cherished and loved I was.  I visited other areas of my injured soul. Again, and again, I uttered words of love into those situations. This is a shortened version, blog version, of what happened, but overriding it all, was this awareness’ I wasn’t alone – I was with someone. This was my feminine soul doing Her work and how beautiful it was – absolutely liberating.

We spend a lot of time searching for love. We search for it everywhere, through other people, power, wealth, beauty and status. But the full alchemy of love is inside you not outside. Anything else is just a relative, a sanitised version of your true self. True love can only come out of you, it cannot come into you.

The aching for love and acceptance is a strand of yearning that links us all. We cannot fully serve the truth or follow in Love’s footsteps without self-love. To be a bold and unshakable voice for the soul we must also be unshakable. It takes courage to love yourself.

I’m wondering where my feminine soul is going to lead me next. All I know, at this point in time, is that without self-love, all other relationships, will be fractured versions of what is possible in love.

The fight for my feminine soul

I need to rethink my life as a ‘man-made’ woman. To take back my soul. [Sue Monk Kidd].

Did you notice my new blog category? Feminist Spirituality.  Just writing the words, and I’m shaking my head not quite believing what I see.

Feminism – it’s not a term I thought I would ever use in conjunction with spirituality or God. Never in a million years.  I’m a bit of a coward. A closet sympathiser. A secret fist pumper. Cautious about attaching myself to the word ‘feminist’ in any sense, let alone place it side by side with spirituality.  I’m scared of the backlash and outrage that occurs when old, or new ways, are challenged or questioned. A hostile response and I’m easily silenced. But no more.  I’ve been silent far too long. Hopefully, in the future, I’ll be able to change the words ‘Feminist Spirituality’ to ‘Feminine Spirituality’, but at this stage. I am just at the start of my fight – the fight to get back what has always been mine – my feminine soul.

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Religion and God – making sense of the nonsense

Like a woven cobweb, God and religion are difficult to untangle. [MC]

Religion and God. Oh, my goodness! This is one of those articles that will not go away.  As I sat browsing through one of my journal writings from the eighties, I noticed my first words, “My pen is the mouthpiece for my unspoken thoughts”.  It’s a quote that remains true for me today. Until my unspoken thoughts appear on paper, I’m stuck.  At a standstill, neither moving forward or backwards.

Unfortunately, I’m also a bit of a coward. It’s easy to write about the outside-in stuff. Regale you with stories of my interests – running, yoga, friends, family, memoirs, or even a work of fiction. However, I am drawn longingly to write about life from the inside-out. But religion and God? I’ve read enough bitterly scathing, caustic, vitriolic criticism from others to scare me from writing about the subject for a lifetime. But I need to move forward. As my outward life unravelled so too did my inner life.  I make no apologies about the fact that a central spiritual theme decorates my Fiftypluskiwi writings –– God, religion, love – all have woven a well-trodden path of bittersweet moments in my life. And all were littered with myth, perception and misconception. So I began the process of unpicking and discarding. Questioning everything about my spiritual life.  And part of this process was trying to make sense of the nonsense that surrounds God and religion. Here goes…

Like a woven cobweb, God and religion are difficult to untangle. In a previous blog, Love in three minutes, I mentioned how, we use the words love and commitment as though both words have the same or similar meaning when, in fact, they are quite different. We do the same with religion and God. Mention religion and people start talking about God.  Discuss God and people start talking about religion. Seeking God and identifying with a religion are totally different experiences.  Throughout history, God has suffered a great injustice at the hands of those who claim to be the closest to God.

Religion has done a huge disservice to God. Not long ago I received a curt email from an acquaintance. The one sentence email read, “This is why I don’t believe.” Underneath was a link to a YouTube clip featuring Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011) lecturing from his bestselling book, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. Hitchens was a controversial, thought-provoking British-American writer. He was a serious atheist.  In the YouTube clip he was witty, funny, riveting, confident and clever.  And I had to agree with most of what he said. I did not believe in the God he was talking about either. But the problem I had, and have, with the atheist argument is how they mix God with religion as though they were one and the same, when in fact, the two are very different. And it wasn’t until I explored the question, ‘what if everything I perceived God to be was lie?’, that I realised I had been doing the same thing.

Jeff Goldwasser, a rabbi at the Temple Sinai in Cranston, says our society, it seems, has become so confused about religion that we don’t really seem to understand what a religion is. Because of that, we don’t really seem to understand what it means to experience God, either.

“Seeking God and identifying with a religion are different experiences. Yet, many people seem to think that a person who does not identify with any particular religion must, therefore, be an atheist. That is an insult both to God and, I suppose, to true atheism. Religions are human institutions that, at their best, help people to experience and be close to God. At their worst they can give people an excuse to hate, control and be greedy. However, the relationship between a religion and God is like the relationship between a radio and music. Just because you don’t have one does not mean that you can’t experience the other.”

Goldwasser says seeking God and identifying with a religion are different experiences. He is right. Religion is an ‘outside-in’ experience, between you and other people; it’s full of interpretation, theories and opinions. But God, experiencing God, is an ‘inside-out’ experience just between you and God. A feeling in your chest – it’s a matter of the heart.  No one else is involved. God happens when you allow yourself to wander through the chasms, abysses and crevasses of your own heart and pay attention to what you feel. Religion is not necessary for this. Someone once told me ‘going to church makes you no more a Christian than going into a cowshed makes you a cow’. So true! There is nothing, you need to achieve, belong to, or go to, to know God.

Can religion be found in God? No! Absolutely not. Can God be found in religion?  Yes. But as a stepping stone, not a stopping place. Religion can one of the many, many ways we use when we are seeking that something or responding to matters of the heart.  But religions don’t work for everyone. They are not necessarily the ideal way for everyone to experience God. No religion, and no human institution has a monopoly on the truth. Because that’s what this is about. It is not about having the best argument or winning the debate. It’s about truth. You do not have to have a religion to find that truth. These days I tend to tell people, ‘If the by-product of what you believe is love, then go for it’.

Freeing God from the shackles of religion has been a liberating experience for me. When I began the process of untangling the web that ensnared religion and God, I noticed how my attitudes towards others changed. The people I met, their stories, became incredibly precious. Everyone’s life mattered. Love, peace and tolerance take on new dimensions when you separate God from religion and religion from God. Especially love, because we are all searching for that place where love has hidden itself away.

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