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Thursday, June 23, 2011

Saturn's Return???

"And I see and am with the fears that hook me into wanting things to be different from the way they are, fears that pull me into the belief that a different location or situation--a more creative job, a home in a more natural setting, more money or time or other resources, a relationship with someone who has the same "spiritual" goals or daily practice--is needed if I am ever to find deep abiding peace, if I am ever to learn to love well. These beliefs are rooted in deeper if intermittent fears: the fear that I am not now and never will be able to hear the call at the center of my life accurately or fully enough to know how to consistently live who and what I am; the fear that the Beloved, tired of my inability to get it right, will simply stop calling, stop sending out the voice that can guide me home; the fear that I am not in the right place, have not found the right situation in which I can live my purpose fully, offer the one word I have come her to say and weave into the collective dream of the people" (Oriah Mountain Dreamer, The Call, 78).

This about sums up the consciousness I have been living with the last six or seven months. I have been rooted strongly in the fear that something has gone terribly wrong. That I've finally completely and utterly screwed up. I've gone so far off track, it will be basically impossible to "right" myself. Nothing is exactly the way it is "supposed to be." I missed the boat, I didn't hear the call or, worse yet, the Beloved has stopped calling. Perhaps I don't believe that, what I do believe is that I am so blocked off from the voice that I've removed myself from the game. Or perhaps I am just really, really angry with God. Even a bit scared of God. It seems God only has bad things in store for me...

I was at a meeting the other day wherein I was struck by two distinct sentences in the Big Book. Both were geared toward highlighting the "problem" that a person might be experiencing in working the program. Bottom line was that whenever a person has a problem, the problem has nothing to do with external things and everything to do with that person's spiritual status. Over the years I have heard people, including myself, diagnose other people's problems: not changing something; not going to enough meetings; not having a sponsor; having the wrong sponsor; having done the steps wrong; not being totally honest on a 4th step; skipping the 6th and 7th steps; relationships (like 13th stepping); and the list goes on. For the first time, I realized however that the problem, according to the Big Book, always lies in a person's relationship with their higher power and nothing else. Perhaps this is the meaning of "to thine own self be true." Who but ourselves can diagnose our spiritual condition? The point of this long winded paragraph is that I am coming to own the fact that something is the matter with my relationship with God.

Somewhere along this journey I stopped trusting God. After all, in my small view the events of the last seven years make very little sense. Especially when those events are compared with my expectations. I expected to experience success in graduate school here in Champaign-Urbana, whatever that was going to look like. I figured I'd continue to grow spiritually, but I did not expect that growth to be painful. The gap between what has happened and what I expected is so great that my ego (my pride) finds it nearly intolerable. All it can predict at this point is that the pain is going to continue and that the path ahead is sure to lead me to, in no uncertain terms, hell. It's not a pretty picture.

Some people have looked upon my experience here in Illinois with different eyes, maybe even with a touch of envy. Perhaps this is because of the many gifts that I have received. Instead of doing well in graduate school, I learned to let go of a degree of my perfectionism. I stopped using food and my body as the way in which to regulate my emotions. I became more flexible. I began to learn to have more intimate relationships and, in turn, got married (not that those relationships or this marriage is all fun and games, it's been one of the toughest experiences of my life). I was blessed with a beautiful and amazing daughter and the experience of pregnancy, birth and motherhood. I found out a lot more about my interests and my perspective on the world expanded greatly (thank you graduate school).

It turns out that I dislike teaching, am terrible with foreign language, am very self-conscious talking to groups, love to do research (but only on topics dear to my heart), love to read, love to write, love to synthesize disparate sources and to organize ideas and spaces.

I am deeply interested in the relationship between the mind and the body and am incredibly open-minded when it comes to what is within the realm of "normal" human behavior. I no longer believe in talk therapy as the be-all-end all and want to learn as much as I can about how the body works so that I can understand how it is entangled with the mind. This is much like the interest that I had in graduate school so at least I am consistent!! There I was interested in the stories people tell, but specifically because of their lack of relationship to reality (often) and their consistent inconsistency. I began to believe that people's stories are stories about their "faith" and that these stories have been chosen pragmatically, even if the results are negative, people know that the meaning they have given to events "works" for them so they continue to tell those stories, which is to say, they continue to believe them.  This led to problems for me. I was always being criticized for seeking the "authentic" through people's bodies and experiences. But I never thought to question graduate school's definition of authenticity. What does it mean? If authenticity means Truth, I was most certainly wrong to make such a claim. But if authenticity means the truth for that individual (at a given moment), then I don't believe I was wrong.

Definition of AUTHENTIC
obsolete : authoritative
a : worthy of acceptance or belief as conforming to or based on fact authentic picture of our society> b : conforming to an original so as to reproduce essential features authentic reproduction of a colonial farmhouse> c : made or done the same way as an original <authentic Mexican fare>
: not false or imitation : real, actual authentic cockney accent>
a of a church mode : ranging upward from the keynote — compare plagal 1 b of a cadence : progressing from the dominant chord to the tonic — compare plagal 2
: true to one's own personality, spirit, or character 
Upon seeing this definition, it is clear to me that both me and my professors are correct. Authenticity, by my definition, does have to do with being "true to one's own personality, spirit, or character." As I have learned in my anatomy and physiology classes, personality itself is a product of genes in large part, and character one would argue is the result of the relationship between this personality (genetic make up) and one's formative experiences (the evidence shows that emotions and experiences do get lodged in the body affecting behavior and future experiences), and spirit, well to each his own, this too is a product of a relationship between one's body, mind and experience. And because of the individuality of every person, it is impossible for anyone but that person to be able to claim the authenticity of anything relating to him. As such, it is essential to trust that person's own claims about his experience and his body. 

And this leads me to the wonderful article that I read in the Sun Magazine about a psychologist at Mt. Holyoke College who does not believe in madness. She argues that everything is "emotional distress" and all mental illness is a construct created by pharmaceutical companies to make money. She also argues that listening to people experiencing emotional distress is the answer. Indeed, she is disturbed by people's complete disregard for the testimony of the actual people experiencing emotional distress because of the assumption that is made that they are "insane" and so their experience must be worthless. Isn't it amazing how things come across our paths that speak directly to issues we are wrestling with? This is one way that God speaks to me and always has. For that I am grateful. 

But instead of continuing to argue my point in academia, itself a deeply imbalanced place (oh the life of the mind!), I decided to begin to learn about the part of the equation that I really know very little. I've read many products of brilliant minds but I have not studied those minds or those bodies. I have no idea how any of that works. Perhaps that is why I have started all over from the bottom up. Where once I was in community colleges studying English, Math and Political Science, now I am studying science. Once the bane of my existence. Who would have thought it. And this *seems* like one of the largest surprises that has occurred since I moved to Champaign. I wasn't supposed to start all over!! Some days I am in awe of the good in my life, and others I feel like I've been dropped on my head. This is when I believe that God has left me or that I have blocked God out and missed his message. 

I can't understand starting over. I can't understand relationships that seem to keep breaking. That are so hard sometimes they make life seem impossible. Another thing that has changed dramatically since I moved to Champaign is my relationship to death. It no longer seems like a far flung concept. It now seems like something that really is going to happen. That what I do actually does matter because I don't have forever to figure things out. That my mother really will be gone one day (a thought that makes me want to curl up in a ball on the floor and never wake up).  That I've created a life that will go on long after I have died (God willing). Acknowledgment of these things shocks me. Awes me. How could I have not known about these things seven years ago? So, yes, I have come face to face with mortality here in Champaign and it has caused me to consider how I truly want to be spending the rest of my life and what I will prioritize. 

Are these perhaps things that would have, could have happened anywhere? Perhaps. But most days I blame all that has happened on God. This is because one day when I was visiting Champaign with my mom before I moved here, we were walking at Meadowbrook Park and I had the sudden thought that this is where I was supposed to be. And so I chose to move here. 
I pray that I will come to see how all of this is a part of God's plan for me rather than a huge mistake or the result of a mistaken moment of divine inspiration.