This used to be a blog dedicated to one of my interests, dream interpretation. I have decided to expand it to include thoughts about pretty much Everything.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Critiques of Word of Faith

A friend of mine asked me what I thought of this article by Eric Hyde, about why Word of Faith Christians become jaded, since I came from the Word of Faith movement, myself:
His article, in summary says the following:
Mr. Hyde has had a lot of experience with Word of Faith Christians, and has recently noticed a large number of them abandoning Christianity, becoming jaded, or switching to a different denomination. He defines the Word of Faith movement in a way that I think is slightly unfair, but overall gets the gist of it. He posits a few reasons why he thinks so many Word of Faith Christians end up leaving the movement.
1) "Words words words" There is too much an emphasis on the right confessions, and not on the right actions.
2) "Faith + Grace – Works = Victory!" [I didn't actually understand what he was trying to say in this point.] I think he's trying to say that the movement teaches that the relationship between God and the believer is presented as entirely passive, with the believer only receiving God's blessings and not required to do anything to express love back to God.
3) "Abundance, Good; Lack, Bad" This point was actually two points.  First, the Word of Faith people do not have a satisfactory answer to the theodicy conundrum. And second, the WoF's emphasis on a very shallow definition of "good", meaning what *I* the believer think is good, resembles and encourages the selfish consumerism so prevalent in our society.

My response is probably a bit disappointing, because while I no longer identify as a Word of Faith-ist (let's just say WOFist for short), I do disagree with Mr. Hyde on several of his points.

Before I articulate my disagreements (and some agreements) with this article, I think it's an important reminder that the official small-o orthodoxy of any religious sect is often dissonant with that sect's overall praxis. What is taught from the pulpits is often quite different from what is lived and accepted on the streets.  (For an obvious example, take Catholics and birth control...) Myself, I've always been somewhat more inclined towards logos than populos; with figuring out the "right" beliefs more than conforming to social norms.  I have always found it easy to step into the role of Pharisee, being very concerned about the correct interpretation of Scripture, and wanting myself and others to conform to [my understanding of] that.  So when I was in WoF, I was trying to get to the bottom of what the "true" teachings were, while it seems that Mr. Hyde is much more in-touch than I ever have been with the popular outworkings of the Word of Faith movement. Perhaps any disagreements between us arise from that difference in approach.

That said, another introductory point is that even though the Word of Faith movement is a pretty small slice of Christianity, it is not really a homogenous movement with a single identifiable creed.  It is not a denomination.  Like most other Christian fundamentalists, any WOFist worth his/her salt will insist that his/her only source of authority is The Word of God (which means a combination of the Bible --oh, and that his/her understanding of it is the correct one--and the internal voice of the Holy Spirit), and s/he won't be bossed around by formal denominations and the "traditions of men."  Each Word of Faith church creates its own "statement of faith" and repertoire of rhetoric with varying emphases and understandings of theological points.  That is what it means to be a non-denominational church. You get to decide what you (officially) believe and don't believe. Because of this heterogeneity in the Word of Faith movement, I wouldn't be surprised to find out that there are a lot of really strange things being (whether officially or unconsciously) taught at some WoF churches out there.

Therefore, it is hard to say when someone's behavior is in conformity with the movement's official creed or not, because there is no official creed. But some issues Mr. Hyde described seem (to me) to be based on incomplete or inaccurate understandings of the teachings of those I would consider generally accepted leaders in the WoF movement.

The story he told of the man who wouldn't change his diet or exercise, yet wanted to claim victory over his health and weight problems, is certainly disturbing.  But the churches I personally went to growing up did not teach such a dramatic dichotomy between spiritual and physical efforts, and I don't think Joyce Meyers or Kenneth Hagan, (to name a couple examples), would condone such irresponsibility.  On the contrary, I was often told the Scripture, "faith without works is dead" is very important.  If you want to see your victory, you have to go out and act on your faith.

I was taught that God established physical laws in the universe, and as humans we don't have authority to go breaking those laws willy-nilly. If we needed a miracle for an extreme situation, we could "claim" it. But we couldn't go jumping off cliffs for fun and expect to command the law of gravity to change on our behalf.  The authority I was told I had was authority over the devil and over my flesh.  In the obese man example, I think that the people at the churches I grew up in would have prescribed taking authority over any demons that were keeping him in bondage to his appetite, and only then moving on to taking authority over the sicknesses that plagued him due to obesity.

That said, I HAVE seen several obese preachers in churches that could be described as being in the WoF camp.  So again, there's that heterogeneity in the WoF movement...

As far as the point about the God-to-Believer relationship being entirely one-sided, with God doing all the loving, and the Believer doing all the receiving, I don't think that is a fair representation of the WoF's "orthodoxy" either.  Many WoF teachers do teach a lot about love, both for other humans and for God.  Their understanding of the term might be different from how I would understand it, but I don't think the image of the Believer as a merely passive receiver of God's love is accurate. If people are getting jaded in the WoF because they feel bored and passionless, well, it's not from a lack of information out there about how WoF-ists understand the relationship between grace, salvation, love, and works.

The third point, though, is indeed a good one.  Of all the flavors of Christianity, the Word of Faith may be the least equipped to grapple with the complex problem of evil.  Their worldview is a sharp dualism.  God is only good, all bad comes from the devil and humans.  Free will is the ONLY explanatory factor as to why evil exists, and if tragedy strikes someone, the only reason is the victim's lack of faith in taking authority over the demons that caused it to happen.  I can certainly see such victim-blaming as being desperately harmful to people and causing cynicism or anger to set in, and compelling people to leave the movement.

To be fair, there is no philosophical approach that can answer the problem of evil without some logical flaws, or having to insert a glaring "I don't know" somewhere into the argument. It is a complex problem, one that humanity has been attempting to solve for millenia.  (I've probably recommended this before, but I'll do it again, it's such a good book.  Evil: The Shadow Side of Reality, by John A. Sanford, is a great overview of the problem of evil and the various approaches in trying to solve it throughout history.)  But the WoF, with its insistent positivism, is particularly weak in this area.  When they do get results, it's great. I've seen real miracles.  But for those for whom the mind-over-matter techniques don't work, the "why's" and the inherent shame in making it all the victim's fault can be psychologically devastating.

The fourth point, too, is compelling.  For those of us who are alarmed at the selfish, pampered, unsustainable, callous, and myopic lifestyles of materialism that define so much of current American society, the WoF movement's emphasis on prosperity does not seem to be the right prescription.  Again, different churches will take the prosperity message to different lengths.  But I've heard a preacher talk about how he will know he has achieved a breakthrough in his faith when he finally is able to manifest a private jet. And he wasn't joking.  And this wasn't a small church.  His message was being broadcast and published to people all over the country.  The message that you are not walking in faith if you are not financially wealthy is dangerous in so many ways.  I think this extremism is a valid reason for getting disgusted and fed up with the WoF movement.

Contrary to what Mr. Hyde says, this author said (in 1999) that the Word of Faith movement is the fastest-growing religious movement in America.  I do not know how to validate who is right, or if perhaps that was was the case in 1999, but now there is a decline.  I do know that I left it for emotional, theological, and intellectual reasons, and I won't go back.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Helping people

Back in the day
Medicine woman: "The ancestors have long used a tea from this plant to help ward off evil spirits that attack at night. Drink it at sunset, and it will protect you."
Result: The patient can fall asleep better and get better rest.

Doctor: "Serotonin levels drop when the sun starts to go down, and then, normally, your body increases melatonin production to bring itself to sleep. When serotonin levels drop, though, it can trigger anxiety and overarousal. This drug will increase your serotonin levels and help you manufacture melatonin more efficiently. Take one pill every night shortly before going to bed, and you'll start to feel better."
Result: The patient can fall asleep better and get better rest.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

More dialogue

I think I'm making progress.

Letting Go, Take 4.

[I walk into the coffee shop, see him sitting at the table working, and stroll over to his table.  I sit down, snapping him out of his work.]


I'm just realizing how mean that would be, sneaking up on someone and shocking them, from left field, with an intense conversation.  I'm going to envision instead that I have contacted him in advance to arrange this meeting.  Much more ethical approach. 

****OK.  Back to the conversation.****

Me:  Hey.  Thanks for agreeing to meet me. How are you?
Ex:  Hey.  I'm OK.  How's it going for you?
Me: Fine, I guess.  Pushing through my school work these days, mostly. I'm not too satisfied with the quality of education I'm getting, but I guess that's the deal--you get what you pay for, and I chose a cheap school.
Ex:  Yeah. Life can work that way.
Me:  Ironically, though, since I really am eager to learn, I've enrolled in a few free courses through iTunes U and other sources of open-access courses, and that has been mostly a good experience.  The quality is often higher than what I'm getting at [my university's name], go figure.  I'm not getting credit for the free courses, but they are making me sharper.
Ex:  Good for you, for taking your education into your own hands! I admire how ambitious you are.
Me:  Thanks. You know how to make a girl feel good!
[We both suddenly realize the awkward accidental double entendre there, and look away from each other, briefly embarrassed, trying not to grin.]
Me: (hurriedly)  Well, this whole discovery of iTunes U has made me curious about how Open Source works.  So, fittingly, I found a free course about Open Source! The history, the various models of communication, business models, and so on. It's been really fascinating!  And it's very pertinent to the field I'm going into. 
(my voice drops a bit.)  God, though, [his name], it reminds me of you, and it has really made me ache to talk with you again.  I want it so much, [his name], that my chest actually literally hurts when I think about it.  You always had such informed and insightful perspectives on these kinds of things.  Do you realize how much I loved communicating with you?  Really loved it.  You challenged me, you gave me an outlet for my thoughts, you irritated me, confused me, amused me, the whole nine yards.  And some of our conversations were truly life-changing for me in a dramatic way.  As in -- you were instrumental in helping me leave my religion, for example -- THAT life-changing.  I wanted you to know that... I guess... How much you made a difference in my life.
Ex: (looking down) Mmm... Thanks for letting me know.  I appreciate your candor.
(I sense he is tense, as if there's something on his mind that he isn't able to express. He shifts in his seat too much, rubs his hands through his hair too often...)
Me: So... (I lean in a bit, and my hands are knotted so tightly on the table that my knuckles are white.) The last communication you got from me was abruptly dismissive...  I guess I was kind of a bitch.
Ex: Well, deservedly so.  I mean, no, you weren't a bitch-- you were just upset. When I sent you the news about [the other woman]'s pregnancy, I pretty much expected something along the lines of what I got.  Not really surprising.
Me: Knowing me like you do, what do you think my reaction has been since that email?  What do you think has been on my mind the past several months, regarding... "us"... this situation?
Ex: Ummm... How could I know? I've been so overwhelmed, myself, I can't picture what you've been going through. I kind of figured you'd just move on, I guess?
Me: I'll tell you.  Even though I have felt a huge personal sense of loss and grief at what happened, and even though I have a lot of seriously stressful things happening in my own life, most of my conscious thoughts about this situation have been worries about how you're doing.  How you're coping, how you feel, whether you're becoming an alcoholic or not, whether you're getting into your new "daddy" role comfortably or not, how your family is doing, and so on.  Does that surprise you?
Ex: It's nice of you to care so much.
Me: (gently) Do you see the pattern here, [his name]?  I go too far into the side of caring about what others think, and in my opinion you go too far into the side of thinking only of yourself.
Ex: (somewhat strained) That might be something close to a fair analysis.  I don't think it's always true, though.
Me: Oh I'm sure it's not.  [His name], I'll be direct. Losing you has been one of the saddest events of my life, seriously. You're a great person.  You're so smart, strong, talented, hard-working, interesting, just an incredible human being.  I'm losing a lot by losing you.  But here's an obvious rhetorical question:  How, do you think, do I even know what I'm losing?  I know it because I've thought about you.  Studied and analyzed you.  Stalked you online. (uneasy laugh)  Made considerable efforts to connect with you.
You know what?  I'm a great person too.  But I don't think you realize what you lost when you set me aside. I don't feel like you did any diligence in trying to learn who I was beyond some shallow observations of my life and personality. That's how I feel. And that's what hurts.  I feel like I have been quickly glanced over, like a cheap glass vase at a pawn shop. "Oh that's pretty," and then set back on the shelf.  And I was never selfish enough to demand that you look deeper. I always just gave and gave and gave to you.  That was my attempt to get your attention.  But in the end, I think you felt superior to me, based on some external factors, but didn't consider that there are other aspects of my life experience that could compensate for areas where I'm not at your level.
That's the story I'm understanding, at least.  Is that accurate?
Ex: No... yeah... no...  I mean... It's not like I didn't notice anything about you... You're making it sound like... (He is uncomfortable and keeps trailing off.  The dilemma here is that if he confirms what I said, it would be rude, admitting that one feels superior to someone else, for example. But if what I said is true, then it would be lying to contradict it for the sake of politeness. And if it's false, it requires him to be very vulnerable in sharing some very personal feelings.)
Me: Look, I know this is hard.  I mostly just wanted to share my feelings, get it off my chest. I know most people have a harder time being emotionally open than I do. One of my many talents. (forced laugh)  You don't have to disclose anything you don't want to, though.  I'm just here to TRY to make a better closure to our relationship than what I did last February.  I'd rather things ended peacefully.
Ex:  (long pause) It's a noble endeavor.
Me:  So... Because my opinion is that you could use some help in getting outside of your own head, I'm sharing a small slice of my pain with you.  Pain that you, for the most part, caused.  I'm not saying that my pain is greater or more important than your pain. I'm sure it's not, actually. I'm just asking if you can at least see it.
Ex: (whispered) Yeah, I can see it. (long pause) There's nothing I can say that really does this any justice except "I'm sorry."  Even that sounds cheap... (trails away)
Me: (looking at him sadly and steadily) I'm going to leave here today, and most likely, I will never see you or communicate with you again.  The finality of it punches me in the gut sometimes, even now.  I guess that must be what it's like with you and your mom too -- that finality, knowing you'll never be able to talk with her again.  It's hard. It's really hard.
Ex: Yep. (lips quivering) "That dark night" is pretty awful.
Me: I'm so sorry.  I really am.  I can't even begin to help you with those feelings.  With the "us" situation, however, I am trying to frame this metaphorical death in terms of transformation.  I definitely got a lot from my relationship with you.  And though I wish it could continue, it can't. But even this process of tearing apart can be a learning, transformative experience for me if I let it.  Sounds trite, doesn't it? I am trying to see this relationship in those terms... for my own life, at least...  I hope you can learn and grow through this as well.
Ex: (he is less composed than before, and misty-eyed. I'm pretty sure the last paragraph was only half-heard, and his mom was closer to his mind.) That's some good wisdom there.  I don't know how much of it I can be fully on-board with, philosophically, but... (voice cracks)
Me:  (softly)  Go ahead!  It's OK.  You're not less a man in my eyes for crying.  Quite the opposite. I'm surprised I haven't broken down yet, myself, honestly.
(His tears bring me to tears.  After a minute of the tears falling, we are able to take deep breaths and get back under control.)
Ex: That whole thing you said awhile ago about feeling like you were cheap... that's not true. Believe me.  I... I never knew what to expect from you. You were a bit intimidating that way, actually.  I liked that, though.  And I admired your fortitude. I don't think you're something to be passed over, and never have. I just... I am just... a wanderer.  Like you said, I'm stuck in my own head. I'm not very good at making plans or thinking too far down the road.  And I was too stressed out to be thinking clearly at all, I guess.  I'm... Ugh, this is a mess...
Me:  OK. Thanks.  I appreciate your honesty.  You don't have to say any more.  I don't need you to validate my worth. It's tempting. But I'm not here for that. I think I said my piece.
I'm going to go now.  It's really hard... It would be so easy to fall into a long conversation, but... you're taken now, and I don't think it's appropriate for me to be with you too long. I'm just going to have to leave you with your life and trust you to live it to the best of your ability without my help.  I guess it's a skill you modeled well for me.  (I pause, realizing that may have sounded caustic.) That's a good thing, right?  Boundaries.  Hey, it was good to see you again.
(We stand up, and hug for a long time, then I walk away).

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

I am hopeless with relationships

I didn't date in highschool or most of college, because of odd religious ideas I had.  I kind of got over those ideas halfway through college, but then I just managed to get a bunch of crushes on guys who refused to acknowledge my existence.   Most of the dates I did manage to score --before meeting the guy who would go on to become my abusive (now-ex-)husband-- were one-hit wonders.  I think I went out with one guy twice.  Post-divorce, the longest healthy relationship I've ever had lasted 3 months.  (I don't consider my most recent heartbreak, which I blogged about here, here, and here to have been a healthy relationship.)

Just bear that in mind... because I recently decided to join a dating site, and... I've found someone interesting.

But I don't know what to think.  I'm wondering if history is going to repeat itself, and I'm feeling a bit anxious.

In the healthy relationship I mentioned above, I broke up with him, because things just didn't feel like I thought they should.  I knew from the start that I wasn't hugely attracted to him. He was just a long-standing, good, distant friend.  But I wanted to give him a chance. "Maybe feelings would develop over time," I thought.  "I've changed so much since last time I knew him, maybe things will be different now."
I tried, I really did, but I just couldn't make myself feel like I thought I ought to feel for a romantic partner.  There was nothing wrong with him, and so much right with him, but there was no spark.  At least not on my end.  On his end, well, I'm pretty sure he had strong feelings for me... so it was really hard to tell him I wanted to break up.
I've often wondered if I did the right thing. If I should have just told him upfront that I didn't feel a romantic attraction for him, and not started anything with him at all.  It would have saved him a painful heartbreak.  I still feel a twinge of guilt about it to this day.  Heartbreak is agonizing, I know all too well.  But I just didn't know what would happen.  I hadn't had enough experience to know.  I honestly thought that maybe feelings would develop over time.  But they didn't.  How could I have foreseen?

Should I have "gone with my gut?"  My so-called "gut" has led me astray in the past. "Trust your instinct" is sometimes good advice, sometimes bad.  My opinion on "the gut" or "the instinct" is that it is a deeply-embedded, instantaneous response stemming from primal, implicit conditioning, programmed in the emotional parts of my brain, based on in-born survival instincts, plus how I have unconsciously processed the millions of life experiences I have had. I do NOT think "instinct" is based on an objective view of reality, nor indication of connection to a transcendent guidance system, such as a deity, or "The Force," or what-have-you.  If my understanding of "instinct" is correct (and, of course, I think it is), then my knee-jerk responses are influenced mostly by my past experiences. And because my past experiences with romance have been heavily tinged with negative beliefs, expectations, and situations, I don't "trust my gut" when it comes to relationships.  I know that I need to rewrite this part of my life.  I need to rebuild the "relationships" schema in my mind.  (Just like I am rebuilding so many other schemas in my life these days, post-religion, now that I think about it!)

I have thought a lot about what I want in a partner, and I've gone so far as to write it down.  I have quite a list of character traits that I feel are indispensable.  And yet, how many of them really are indispensable? 
Here's what I carefully wrote in my journal a couple months ago: 
academically intelligent,
communicative (good at listening and speaking),
worldly-wise (not naive),
good with people,
social justice minded,
bold/assertive, and 
To boil it all down, I need someone who 1) affirms what I like about myself, 2) makes me feel safe by providing for the areas where I am weak, and 3) assists me in accomplishing what I need to accomplish in life.  I want to respect him and feel equal to him.

Could one person live up to all that?  I don't think I'm being incredibly unrealistic.  High standards, yes, but not impossible.  However, what if I found someone who met all but one of these traits?  All but two? And so on?  Can love be reduced to a check list?  Or what if I found someone who met all the things on my list, but had some sort of major problem that I hadn't foreseen, like "he rolls in the mud every day for fun" or something?  Oh yeah, and how much should physical attractiveness play into the decision?

So that brings me back to the guy I'm currently considering. We've been communicating online /texting /phone calling for all of three weeks now, and we've met in person once.  There's a lot I like about him.  It's hard to say definitively at this point, but he seems to meet my requirements on the above checklist so far. That I can tell, anyway. However, the "unforeseen problem" is that he is very mild-mannered.  Only after spending time with him did I realize that I have tended to prefer men who challenge me, argue with me, push me, give me an "edge" to work with.  Not in a mean way, just in a direct, strong-willed, verbal-energetic way. I like someone strong to push against. (Mars squares my Sun, Saturn conjucts Pluto and squares 7th-H Mercury, and Venus squares Jupiter in my chart, astro people...)  This new guy is pretty laid-back, though.  I have started a few discussions on controversial topics, and while he hasn't tried to avoid conflict or tell me what he thought I wanted to hear, his style is very... well... gentle.  Calm. Acquiescing.  Could I live with that?  Should I add "edgy" or "strong-willed" to my list, and just write off this current guy?  How could I know whether this "style" issue will eventually bore me and make me miserable, or if it'll grow on me?

I'm trying to decide how "attracted" I feel to him based on the one day we spent together. There's more attraction there than there was with the 3-month guy I mentioned above.  But I've definitely felt stronger feelings for other people in the past. Does the fact that I'm actually trying to decide how attracted I am indicate that the right kind of attraction isn't there? Or is my mental gymnastics routine just a byproduct of being a sensitive, thoughtful person who tends to "over-think" everything?  Does a relationship need to start with a head-over-heels infatuation in order to have the passion necessary to be enduring?  What if it's just a head-over-shoulders infatuation at first?  Is a cautious, tentative approach good enough, or is that already a red flag that something important is missing?

I don't want to break someone's heart again unnecessarily, nor my own.

Maybe I'm worrying too much about this.  Maybe I should just take it one day at a time.  Something doesn't feel right, but looking back, NO relationship has ever "felt right."  Ever.  Even when undeniably strong attractions were there.  So, like I said, I'm pretty sure my feelings are not an accurate barometer at this point.

I need advice!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Well, that didn't go as expected...

My doctor told me to try biofeedback first, before he looks into giving me meds for depression or anxiety.  Fortunately, my student fees cover free therapy, including sessions in the biofeedback lab.
The "lab" is actually a lovely, comfortable den, run by a loving and comforting woman with whom, last time, I spent so much time chewing the fat, that we didn't have time for the actual biofeedback session.  So this time, we went straight into it.  There are several biofeedback things we can do, I was told, and this time we are going to start with the Heart Math program.
The quick and dirty explanation was that just by measuring variation in my pulse, this program can detect whether I'm in a state of "coherence" or not. Controlling my breathing, focusing my attention on the area of my heart, and invoking positive feelings such as appreciation, will bring me into "coherence."  What is coherence"? Something about the autonomic nervous system... It means I will have that "fullness of heart" feeling that indicates my body is running at its optimal level.  I was suspicious that the mere timing intervals of my pulse could indicate whether or not my body is at its optimal level... (What about my anemia? Low ferritin and hemoglobin can't be detected via pulse, but I still can't make it through the day without lying down several times...) but I tried to keep an open mind.

A thingamabob was strapped onto one of my fingers, and soon a graph started producing a line that measured my "coherence."  I got a few squawks from the computer in the first few seconds.  Apparently I was low coherence when I was first hooked up, and the computer didn't like that.  But I just started following her instructions to breathe in for 5 and out for 5... "Ding" I was at 90% coherence already, in just a few seconds.  "Excellent job!" I was told.  "Not many people get that high so quickly."

We then went through a visualization.  While continuing my rhythmic breathing, I was supposed to focus on the area of my heart, as if I were breathing "through my heart"... then imagine feelings of appreciation for something...  That exercise lasted several minutes, and I sustained high coherence throughout most of it. I didn't tell her, however, that I was having a hard time faking a "feeling of appreciation" for something or someone out of nowhere.  I thought of things I enjoy, but I just didn't feel like being actively happy that day.  Blah was kind of my mood. Neutral.

There was another screen view in the program that showed "coherence" a different way. So we started another exercise.  I lay down in a recliner and closed my eyes.  This time, I decided to test the system.  When she said "focus your attention on your heart," I focused my attention on my right foot instead.  I imagined breathing "through my right foot."  Woohoo!  This would come in handy if anyone ever tried to strangle me... Coherence was still high, so apparently the computer didn't notice that my foci of attention included the wrong body part.  Then it was time to add thoughts of appreciation.  For this, I decided not to be snarky.  I was already feeling guilty enough. 

So I really made an effort to be happy about something.  The only thing I could think of on the spot, that I didn't have mixed feelings about, was the Agastache rupestris plant in my front yard.  I love that thing.  It smells so nice, it's beautiful, and it's practically care-free.

However, this exercise was lasting longer, and as much as I tried, I couldn't just hold this still image of the Agastache in my head for so long. My mind wandered. I wonder what grade I'll get for the final paper I submitted yesterday.  What a dumb class that was. Well, at least it's done, and I have a date this Thursday. Oops... Happy... be happy... No, she said "Appreciation."  I tried to come back to the Agastache.  Oh, I don't think I remembered to water the garden today. I need to get the mail too. I wonder if I'll get another nasty letter from... oops... My coherence wobbled down to the 60s and 70s.  The therapist noticed and reminded me to breathe rhythmically.  The only way I could do that was to blank my mind, though. Trying to focus on something didn't work.  I got "Coherence" back up to the 90s again.

We had a chat afterward. She asked if I was feeling a "fullness of heart."  Not really, I thought, glumly.  Nice person that I am, though, I averted the subject instead.  I told her that, to be honest, I felt resistance to the idea of "trying" to feel happy feelings, artificially.

"Why do you think that is?" she asked.

"Well, it reminds me of positivism, and I've had bad experiences with the positive-thinking movement, and I'm more in agreement with Carl Jung, who said that life is about light and dark, conscious and unconscious, sun and shadow, it's all a valuable part of the human experience, not just the 'light' things or the things that we are holding in our conscious minds, because just because we are consciously making ourselves feel happy, that doesn't mean we don't still have darkness inside, and if we try to repress our problems or the things we wish would just go away, that doesn't actually  make them go away, they'll just come to bite us later, so I don't really like the idea of pretending things are good when actually, life kind of sucks right now; it reminds me of when I grew up, if we got sick we were made to feel guilty for our lack of faith or for letting the devil have an advantage over us, and there's just so much that's wrong with that from a theological and philosophical standpoint, because if you hold that God is 'only' good, and ascribe all bad to the devil or humans, then essentially you are creating a dualism, where God is at war with the devil, and while I understand the desire to not ascribe evil to God, when you do so you diminish his supposed omnipotence, so it's a paradox, but that's really a question that humanity has been struggling with for millenia, and every culture tries to solve it a different way, some end up with dualism, some end up with monism, and in the case of St. Augustine in the 4th century, he might have come up with one of the more sophisticated answers to theodicy, by saying that evil is not actually a 'thing,' it's merely the absence of good, and while that solves some of the problems of theodicy, it has its own set of problems."

At this point I realized I had said too much.

The therapist blinked and I realized she had been maintaining a gradually sinking smile throughout my entire rant.

"OK, I'll try again," I said, lying back down.  "Breathe. In - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - Out - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5..."

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Steps toward forgiveness

Dreams are usually the mind's way of deeply processing the events and feelings of the day or two before the dream. So let me tell you about what I was thinking about yesterday, train-of-thought syle, before sharing the proceeding dream:

Of course, I was still thinking about how to process the breakup that happened awhile back.  I have a strong intuition that I'm ALMOST done with this, but have no idea what to do to actually BE done with this.

I was also noticing that my comments and such on the dating site I've joined tend to be a bit cautious, concerned that I will offend people.

This brought to mind my tendency to absorb the energies and styles of the people around me, and this is something about myself that I find a bit discouraging. I wish I could be more oblivious sometimes, just be myself, and not give a flying leap about what others do or think, and not take on their baggage unintentionally.  I attribute this "absorbent" feature to my Pisces Moon in my natal chart.

This reminded me that the ex I am trying to process through had a 12th-house sun and Venus-- the 12th house is the Pisces-flavored house.

So then I got to thinking of all the things I didn't like about Pisces--deception, confusion, being wishy-washy, hiding, and so on.  (An exercise in self-loathing is never too good right before bed. I don't recommend it!)

So this reminded me to read my personalized horoscope at www.astro.com, and what do you know. Transiting Mars is opposing my Neptune... ruler of Pisces.  (Neptune squares my moon in my chart, so there's a double-whammy...)

Astro.com's interpretation of this transit said that this may be a time of temptation, or of someone trying to deceive me, whether intentionally or not.  (I thought of the several men who have contacted me on the dating site... which one of them is it??  ha ha ha)  It said that I may have to face the consequences of previous action at this time, which I would rather avoid.  Hmmm, interesting.

I did an online search for other possible interpretations of what a transiting Mars opposition Neptune might mean, and one site in particular jumped out at me. This long article went quite in-depth about this transit, and a lot of it was not applicable to me (I don't do holotrophic breathwork!) but there was one paragraph that kind of circled itself to me:
At the biographical level, Mars-Neptune transits can evoke in individuals a major evaluation of their ethical conduct in the world. People examine their overall strategies for pursuing and satisfying their desires and focus on specific incidents where they were not straight or aboveboard in their conduct. They may also recall episodes in their lives in which other people did not act in a straightforward way with them. By feeling the emotions on both sides and the consequences of their human mistakes, subjects can reach states of forgiveness. They realize that forgiveness is not something we can actively will into being. Like Divine Grace, it happens to us when we deeply feel the emotions on all sides.
(emphasis mine.)  I needed to read this!  Whether it actually has anything to do with Mars or not... I have my suspicions... but this paragraph was, nonetheless the point of my search.  Forgiveness. That's what I have been wanting to do with my ex, and I've felt like I couldn't, because I don't know enough, something's missing, I don't know how to process it.  This paragraph told me the missing piece.  I needed to try to feel the emotions on the other side.  (By the way, I really loved the point about forgiveness not being something we can intentionally conjure up. It has to happen naturally. So true.)

I have definitely done my share of trying to figure out, mentally, what happened on his side.  But to really let go, I need an emotional experience.  I couldn't really come up with anything, though... I couldn't fathom how someone could be so incredibly jerky... and it was getting late, so I went to bed.

I dreamed a long dream that I won't share the entirety of here. But the basic idea is that someone in my family died of heart failure.  Then I realized that if heart failure ran in my family, I was at risk for getting it too, and I got scared that I might die young as well.  That fear woke me up.
In that half-awake stage, I noticed an unfamiliar song running through my head. It sounded folksy or easy-pop-worship style:
the lamb of God
Who takes
away the sins
The sins
of the world
The song made me think about forgiveness. And how I needed to feel my ex's feelings in order to forgive.  Then --suddenly-- I felt like I was feeling what my ex felt.  (For sake of a truly immersive experience, I'll use first person, as if I were feeling FOR him)--
Underwater, I'm overwhelmed, not seeing straight, and there's so much darkness in my life. Above the water is SR, shining like a bright light. I don't want to drag her into my darkness and mess. I don't want to quench that light. I want to go to her, but I don't want to. I'm afraid she'll be drawn down here instead of me going up there. I want to protect her from this.
Shit happens. I'm swept away by the waters. Someone else is alluring...  I don't want SR to know. I don't want that light to go out. I need to know that it will always be there sparkling above me, but I don't want to tell her the full story. She needs to be protected. I don't want to hurt her. Damn, it's too late, I have to tell her.  I brace myself.
The angry email arrives. She doesn't ever want to speak with me again.
There's a warm, painful sensation in the center of my body. It's regret, and immense, enormous frustration at myself. I totally blew this. Hurting her was the LAST thing I wanted to do, and it's the very thing that happened. This heat inside me, at my very core... so painful. It's rising up from me, it comes up, it comes up... but it stops at my throat. It can't come out. I don't acknowledge these feelings.  I can't.  I stuff them down and feel only numbness. I try to think about the situation, what to do, and there's just a blank white space in my brain.

I (the real me now) snapped out of this reverie and pondered for awhile.  I'm surprised I didn't cry.  Maybe I was too tired to cry (this was happening at around 5:30 a.m.!) Maybe I was too surprised. I've never had something like this happen to me before, that I know of.  Was this experience accurate? I could never know. Maybe it's wishful thinking. Maybe it's the power of suggestion, since I'd been thinking about the concept of trying to feel his side of the story, only minutes before falling asleep.  However, it IS one POSSIBLE explanation of the story, and since there's no way to verify whether it's true or not... and since I do need to be able to forgive in order to move on... maybe this is what my mind is giving me to help me do just that.  Should I take this and go with it? Is it nonsense? Is it helpful?  Well, let's cautiously go with it.

My first thought was... It's so touching that he felt the need to protect me.  I think it's totally unnecessary. He underestimates my strength I guess.  I felt like I could have helped him!  But still, that's romantic and sweet.

Seeing me as a bright light is flattering. Really?  Oh, I wish this part were true.  I'm so hard on myself, and sometimes I wonder if I'm ever of any good to anyone.
Wouldn't it be nice to know that someone whom I considered to be pretty darn amazing actually looked up to me???  Even if it didn't work out between us, even if things weren't right for an actual romance, that's a flattering thought.

And so sad that he's so overwhelmed, and on top of everything else he has to deal with, he is trying to avoid feeling regret and irritation at himself for what happened with me-- as if he needed any more painful feelings in his life!  I feel so bad about that heat in his body, unable to find expression.  Maybe he will find a way to express it, write a song or something.  I hope so. I hope he finds relief and healing.

How sad that nobody even wins. It's not like he got ahead in life at my expense.  If so, I could, at very least, console myself with the thought that I helped him somehow.  No.  We both lost something.

I can't say I'm at a point of true forgiveness yet, but this experience was interesting. I probably need a little more processing...

Well, to put a bow on things here-- after I fell asleep again, the next dream I had was strongly Piscean in nature, and it reminded me that Pisces can be awesome! It reminded me not to be hard on myself and other Pisces-flavored people because the bright side of Pisces is pretty kick-butt!  I'd share that dream, but this blog post is already long enough!

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Dialogues toward healing

In my process of healing from a breakup that affected me deeply, I've recently felt that imagining a conversation with him would be helpful.  I can't really talk with him anymore, because back when it happened, due to the nature of the situation, I felt that the right thing to do was to cut off communication with him. Not being able to talk with him --to process what happened-- has been hard, though.

So lately I've sensed that the next (and one of the final) step in really letting go would be to envision going back to that coffee shop where we first re-met.  Such a powerful memory-invoking place for me.
I imagine seeing him working on his computer at a table.  I glide over, and sit down across from him, startling him out of his work.
Tears would start falling from my eyes, I know it.  What would I say?
What would he say?

Tonight, the conversations play themselves out like this (though it may change tomorrow, and would most definitely be different if it actually happened in real life)

Take 1--
Me: (approaching his table) *his name*. (Smiling pensively through my misty eyes)
Ex: My god! Give me a heart attack! What are you doing here?
Me: Looking for you…
Ex: (uncomfortable pause) That surprises me.
Me: Me too.  (sigh) I could say so much, bore you out of your mind. I won't, though. I just wanted you to know that... I worry about you, I worry about your new little family, and beyond the feelings I'm going through, I really want you to be OK.  And the baby… and *the other woman's name*… (crying, then catching myself with a deep breath.)
Ex: Hey, I'll be fine. You don't look too good, though.
Me: Don't worry about me. I'm always fine. This is nothing. (Standing up)  I gotta go.  I don't know how to say what I want to say, but… it was good to see you. I just… I… wish I could take back some of what I wrote to you.
Ex: Nah, you had good reasons. I'm a dickhead, I know it.  Good to see you too.
Me: Don't drink too much, OK?  The baby needs you to keep it real. I worry about your drinking.
Ex: (Smirky smile) It's all good
Me, to myself in my head: (He hasn't changed. This hasn't affected him one bit. He's so blind. What am I doing, loving an asshole like this? I want to leave, and yet I want to cling to him. How ridiculous. He wants me to cling to him, jerk. How do I exit this situation gracefully?  What can I say to at least shake him up a bit?)
Me: And you know what? Don't be an asshole to *the other woman's name*. Get your head on right. Man up, face up, grow up. She deserves better than what I got.  That's all. (I'm completely red-faced at my audacity to lecture him, so I turn and march out, feeling like that was the stupidest thing I've ever done in my life.)

Take 2--
Me: (approaching his table) *his name*. (Smiling pensively through my misty eyes)
Ex: My god! Give me a heart attack! What are you doing here?
Me: Looking for you…
Ex: (uncomfortable pause) That surprises me.
Me: Well… (uncomfortable pause) The past few months have been quite a trip. I've gone back and forth between hating your guts, wanting you back in my arms, wishing I could apologize, worrying about you, worrying about *the other woman's name* and the baby, and feeling sorry for myself…  Mess… But I've decided that the most important thing is to worry about you.
Ex: That's quite the list of emotions. Yeah, I'm doing just OK.  I've been all over the place too.
Me: Look, I'm… I'm sorry for the vitriol in my email.  I shouldn't have kicked you when you were down.
Ex: (looks away) you know… I blocked out most things about the first few months of this year.  It's been a tidal wave.  Don't worry about it.  I just gotta get away from it all, take a break, get it all out of my system.
Me: You haven't done that yet, huh? You've been saying you need a vacation for years now.  I wish I could help.  I really do. I want to be a good friend you can talk to again.  I don't know if I can.  I'm strong, but I'm not made of iron. (crying again.)
Ex: I… I'm… I don't know….
Me: (pulling myself together) You know what? You have enough friends. You have a support system. And most importantly, you have a partner now.  You don't need me.  I'm being totally--well, mostly--selfish by coming here to talk with you. I just wanted to make sure you're going to be OK before I… (deep breath)  let you go.
Ex: Hmmm…. I think I'll be OK. But I don't want to let you go... (trails away, then refocuses.) But I won't stop you from whatever you want to do…
Me: OK, so that's how it is?
Ex: What's how it is?
Me: All vague and passive?
Ex: (furrows his brow) Look, maybe we should just continue to agree not to talk with each other. I don't like the insinuations here, and I can tell you don't like how I affect you.
(I purse my lips, stand up, turn on my heels, and leave.)

Take 3--
Me: (approaching his table) *his name*. (Smiling pensively through my misty eyes)
Ex: My god! Give me a heart attack! What are you doing here?
Me: Looking for you…
Ex: (uncomfortable pause) That surprises me.
Me: (forcedly casual) so, how are things?
Ex: You know, the usual.  Chug chug chug. Big deadline coming up.  How are things with you?
Me: You know, the usual.  Kids are doing great. I'm working on my degree, staying active, doing my garden… life is good
Ex: Holding down the fort as usual. Good good.
(long uncomfortable pause)
Ex: So… why are you here?
Me: Why should I tell you? You don't give explanations for the shit you do.
Ex: Wow. Touché… (sits up straight, slightly uneasy, slightly angry)
Me: Sorry, I'm not trying to be all mysterious. Sorry to let my anger show.  I don't really know why I'm here.  I guess I want closure of some sort. I don't think you are capable of providing it though.  So I guess the next best thing is to see your face, study you one last time, check in to see that you're alright.
Ex: Hmmm. *insert one of his random cryptic brief phrases here*
Me: That doesn't even make sense. You know, I can't figure out why I fell in love with you.  I mean, I do know why, partially.  On one hand, we have so much in common, values-wise and experience-wise.  On the other hand, so much about you frightens me.
Ex: Frightens you? Whaa...?
Me: yep, and maybe I'm here to face my fears, and find a way not to be disgusted by them somehow. I don't like fear; it irritates me.
Ex: Hmmm, well, I don't like to be disgusting.  So how long is your psychoanalysis going to take? I do need to get my work done today.
(I can tell he's pissed off. I'm pissed off as well. I'm trying not to be caustic and condescending.)
Me: (airily) No more time. I'm done. (pause)  Look, I wish we could be friends.  I wish it were possible.
Ex: yeah, well, life is weird and shit.
Me: I know you have a lot on your plate--grief, anxiety, overwhelming responsibility.  But I feel like I have to know, though.  Despite everything else going on with you, did you learn anything from what happened with me? I mean, is my perspective close to correct, that you were using me, you lied to me, you tried to cover up what was really going on? Do you, at very least, see how that hurt?
Ex: I'm sorry you got hurt. I really am.  Look, maybe I didn't do the best job of communicating things. I wasn't intentionally doing anything to you. I thought we had made things clear about our relationship. (pointed glance) I don't think it's my fault you took things so personally.  Not trying to be a jackass. I just don't see much to learn here though.
Me: (flatly) Oh really. (glare at him)
Me: (coolly) OK. Well, another example of the power of perception.
Ex: (face softens a bit) Hey… you're a great person. You've enriched my life a lot.  And you deserve to be happy.  Everything from a few months ago was such a mess. I didn't know which way was up. You were going through your own personal shit too. I don't think there's much to take from the situation, except we were both confused and overwhelmed, we comforted each other a bit, and grew apart, and life got messy.  No hard feelings. I wish I could get you to relax.
Me: (can't stop glaring) I wish I could get you to look for meaning a bit more. I worry that you'll hurt someone else. (rolling eyes) Oh well, whatever. My bad. Sorry to bother you. (I get up and leave).

I feel like I'll have reached a great point of healing when i can write one of these conversations that doesn't end with me leaving the table mad and upset.  If I can make it honest to the situation, but with a peaceful, loving, releasing resolution, I will feel great. Right now I can't see how that would work, but I think I'm getting closer.