Tag Archives: spiritual

Hopelessness … why not try God?

The only yellow flower growing out of parched, cracked soil.

The ‘wait’, every damn second of the ‘wait’, is consumed with survival, yet survival, is the one thing her Motor Neurone Disease (MND) cannot give her.

With her days numbered my visits with Kirsty are much quieter. Our conversation more intermittent as she rests from the effort of trying to live.  And while the disease continues to wreak havoc on every muscle in her body, despair and hopelessness also hover in the background. Like vultures. Persistent in their quest to ravage her soul.

The dictionary describes hopelessness as an emotion characterized by a lack of hope, optimism, and passion. From my perspective, as a bystander to my friends’ illness, the English language completely lacks words to describe the intensity of emotions encircling the dark, shadowy wasteland of this thing called ‘hopelessness’.  Fear, despair, helplessness, powerlessness, pain, loneliness, and ‘I feel so useless’, are words Kirsty has used at various times during my visits as she confronts her death – a death forced upon someone wanting to live.

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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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What matters most … is a matter for the heart

Love cannot come in to you, it can only come out of you. [MC]

The last day of the year and, like every other year, the endless wandering of my soul ‘ups the ante’.  When my yearning and longing reach their crescendo. It’s noisy, creative, anticipative and full of fire in the belly.  It also dumps with it, a bunch of melancholy. A restlessness. An ache. Of something I cannot quite see or grasp. It’s like waiting for that bus you know should come, but never comes, but you keep waiting for it.   I feel a bit like a ping pong ball – pinging and ponging my way between the fire in my belly and the stormy blues of melancholy. But today, round one, goes to the fire in my belly – the ignition point at the heart of my yearning and longing … love.

We spend a lifetime searching for love and acceptance.  A friend of mine sums this up beautifully. She says most of us are limping along in this life with deeply buried inner pain, facades of confidence, with no idea how to make it right. Love has always been at the core of my search.  The chasing of futile dreams in fantasy places, happiness in external pleasure, love in religions, even other people, hoping to fill the emptiness that has plagued me. The irony is, the only place I ever needed to search was within. How fabulous is that!

Most of us journey a long way to find what is near.  People carry such wrong notions about love. We look everywhere for our perceptions of love. But love cannot be found through external influence. Not in people, power, wealth, beauty, legislation or status. Love is not about performance or doing or going anywhere.  No-one can learn to love by following a manual. Love does not force its will on anybody. We cannot control it.  And contrary to how the world portrays love, love has no economic value, it is impossible to measure. You can’t love to order – love’s steps are experienced not constituted. Author Mitch Albom says,
“Love is not revenge. It can’t be thrown like a rock. And you can’t create it to fix your problems. Forcing love is like picking a flower, then insisting that it grow.”

I have talked in previous blogs about the way the truth hits you – both hard and gentle at the same time. How it punches you in the stomach as it puts a loving arm around your shoulder. [Anne Ursu].  A few years ago, at a time when I was mentally at my ugliest, I had one of those moments of truth.  I love to run. I find the action of putting one foot in front the other calming when life is in a turmoil. On this particular run, when my thoughts were anything but calm – full of self-pity, anger and confusion, I heard the words, ‘Margaret, love cannot come in to you, it can only come out of you.’ Wham!  It still sends shivers down my spine. I literally stopped dead in my tracks and looked around me to see if anyone else had heard anything. What a truth!  ‘Love can only come out of you.’ Those words of love literally changed and saved my life.

We are all looking for that place where love has hidden itself away. The aching for love and acceptance links us all. To truly understand love, we need divine help. People don’t like to hear this, because we tend to want to be in control of love, dictate love on our own terms, but we won’t get there without God, because God is love – nothing more, nothing less. To seek love is to seek God. And that is a matter for the heart.

I want to finish the year with a quote I used at the beginning of my blog journey. I’m hoping you may take this into the New Year with you.  It’s by the 13th-century Persian Sunni Muslim poet, Rumi, he says,

“Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.”

The greatest weapon we have is love.  And love starts with you, from the inside-out. You must be the love. It’s what you feel in your chest.  Your heart knows the way so run in that direction. The alchemy of love can only come from inside you. Oh yes, what matters most is most definitely a matter for the heart. Happy New Year.

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.

Unraveling the past

Understanding the past is liberating. Dwelling on the past is debilitating. (MC)

When you live a lie, you live other people’s dreams, views and expectations.  My issues with love and relationships, my longing for a God that seemed not to exist, had to be dealt with.    How the heck did I get to live over half a century and not see what was so blindingly obvious?

I have always been a tad cynical, a bit of an eye roller, about delving into the past to solve problems. To delve backwards seemed rather pointless and it never occurred to me I would need to fossick back into my past to uncover any answers. But my burden of God, and love issues, had been with me for over fifty years. Troubled and troubling relationships sprinkle my timeline. Thinking my past didn’t matter, or telling myself my past isn’t who I am now, set the scene for decades of ignorance towards my own journey of self. Our past, even though no longer real, does influence who we are today.  Our beliefs, reactions and emotions, our relationships with others and, more importantly, the relationship we have with our self, all of them, are crafted from the tendrils of our past.

Wikipedia describes the “journey of self-discovery” as ‘a travel, pilgrimage, or series of events whereby a person attempts to determine how they feel, personally, about spiritual issues or priorities, rather than following the opinions of family, friends, neighbourhood or peer pressure.’  From the womb to the world our lives are shaped by others. Our first experiences of life are provided by parents or caregivers. Adult decisions, opinions, customs, actions, and perceptions shape what we believe and how we feel.  As children, we unconsciously accept the beliefs of those around us to be the truth. No questions asked. My parent’s love-lacking authoritarian parenting, common in the 50’s, and the churches’, guilt laden Catholicism, was my first introduction to love and God.  Together they crafted my understanding of the world I lived in. From childhood to adulthood I constructed my own set of values and spiritual beliefs based on past, and then later, future life experiences. And I believed that whatever my worldview was at the time, was the ultimate source of the truth.

As I meandered through the process of unraveling, I discovered that understanding the past and dwelling on the past have two different outcomes. Understanding is liberating. Dwelling is debilitating. If we deny or ignore the importance the past has on the present we will always dwell in the past, especially in the inside-out areas of self-esteem, communication and conflict.       When you dwell in the past you fail to see the many wonderful opportunities that are out there for you right now.

Understanding is truly liberating. In understanding there is no blame, no excuses and no regrets. It’s accepting and acknowledging that certain positive or negative events in the past did occur, and have contributed to who you are today. Once you connect your past with the present, the intensity and control that dwelling in the past has on your life, drops away. It is much easier to change the negative aspects of your behaviour when you understand them.

The shackles of past guilt, discontentment, resentment, confusion and low self-esteem no longer govern my present and future.  This doesn’t mean those feelings don’t crop up from time to time because they do. But because I understand why I feel them, I can deal to them. They are now relics from my past instead of having power over my present. But the past is as much my story, as is my story of today. I love my parents, and the events that have shaped me, more than ever. And I am beginning to love me, the journey of self, the being part, of which I think I shall always be a perpetual student.

William P Young, author of the bestselling novel, The Shack, says, “the world has no meaning apart from relationships. Some are messier, some are seasonal, others different, a few are easy, but every one of them is important.” We alone are responsible for having the relationship we want. And I believe the relationship you have with yourself to be the most important of all. Understand the experiences that have shaped you, the good and bad.

Joy and fulfillment can only be experienced in the present – don’t let the past deny you this.

 

 

Perceptions of God

Photo of Margaret Cunningham and 'Dixie' on Papamoa Beach

Question: What if everything you perceive God to be is a lie?

When the truth hits, it hits hard.  In her book, The Real Boy, Author Anne Ursu describes this moment of truth beautifully. She says, “There is a way the truth hits you, both hard and gentle at the same time. It punches you in the stomach as it puts its loving arm around your shoulder …”

For most of my life I have blindly loved God without really understanding why or questioning whether God was real.  Discovering everything I had ever believed God to be was a lie, felt like I had been sucker punched a deadly blow from behind, – yet at the same time, the moment, exquisite and freeing. The truth a loving arm around my shoulder.

Have you ever had one of those flashes when, unexpectedly, moments of extraordinary clarity, insight, or understanding explode into your mind? When the solution to a problem which you have struggled with for years suddenly becomes clear when you least expect it. They are rare, but life changing moments when they happen. That ‘Eureka moment’.  I now call these my ‘moments of God’, not that I understood this at the time. I talk about ‘moments of God’ in a later post.

A few years ago, I had a significant crisis of the soul. It was dark, dark, dark and I was helpless to help myself.  I decided to dump God for good.  Enough was enough. The ‘yearning’ was exhausting, and my personal life was an utter mess.  God was not behaving in the manner I believed God should. God was NOT answering my prayers. Not who I wanted and expected God to be.  And then there were those questions. Why did God not feed the starving? Why did God allow injustice, wars, greed, power, rape, poverty and disease? Why were some babies born just to die?  Six million Jews and minority groups massacred during the holocaust. Couldn’t you have stepped in, God?  Why? Why? Why?

So there I was, drowning in my own darkness, my life unravelling, walking away from God. Then that moment of truth. ‘What if everything you perceive me to be is a lie?’  The question, answer and understanding tumbled through me in one trillionth of a totally unexpected second. And it was. Everything I had perceived God to be was a lie. And in that moment, I let God go. No more bother. I stacked away my journals, bible and any other God paraphernalia, and left my God.

But life doesn’t work like that. You can’t keep running from the endless wandering of your soul without understanding what you are running from, why you are running and where you are running to.  To begin with I felt utterly bereft, bewildered, and to be honest, I felt stupid.  As though I had wasted fifty years of my life believing in a God who, at the very worst, was not real or, if God was real, my perception of God was a lie. At the same time, I felt rejuvenated.  Free. Like I was about to embark on a thrilling adventure. Tinges of excitement fluttered alongside my bewilderment.

It’s been approximately ten years since my ‘moment of God’. The jolt of the unanticipated moment, and the words, so inordinately profound and insightful, has taken time to process. Before I could even consider sharing this experience, there was a huge amount of work to be done on me.  For most of this time I’ve been shedding the shackles of religion and exploring answers to my questions about God.

It’s a provoking question: What if everything I perceive God to be, or not to be, is a lie?  It nudges, irks and challenges our spiritual ego. It’s a question that excludes no-one – a God question that includes the atheist to the most ‘devout’.  A question daring us to let go of our perceptions of God. A question worth going back to time and time again because of the potential to discover new and greater possibilities of God every time we ask it.

It is only now, in hindsight, I can see my journey away from God, was in fact, leading me to God.

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