“You create your own reality”. Those 5 words are the bottom line of an 8 hour workshop by Caroline Myss, a brilliant spiritual teacher and author, that I have now listened to twice. It’s called “Energy Anatomy” and her theories revolve around our energy centers (chakras) and how key they are to our health and well-being.
I have a lot of work yet to do, but listening and absorbing her message has strongly reinforced my belief that I’m on the right path and those 5 words encompass what I think is the most important thing that I, personally have done and I’m going to tell you what that is: I have questioned EVERYTHING that I thought I knew or believed.
The good news is that this reassessment and subsequent realignment has changed my life. Spiritually, emotionally, professionally, geographically. Everything. I’ve done a 180. I’ve done a vigorous scrub of my belief system. The bad or maybe daunting news, is that it’s taken me about 5 years.
Caroline teaches that our first chakra, the root chakra is where our tribal beliefs are held. From the moment we’re born, our tribe (parents, culture, religion, etc) influence us to fit in with the tribe. This is about survival. We learn our role and our values within the tribe, but eventually we begin to question and this creates internal and external conflict.
We’ve all been there. At some point in our lives, we wonder why we have to follow a certain religion or political party. Why do we have to marry at a certain age and have kids? Why do men and women have to conform to certain roles? And on and on. Often, we go through these periods of questioning or rebelling and then go right back to the tribal norms. Even though we often are not comfortable with them and that can create problems, or as Caroline posits, disease.
Breaking from the tribe is hard. They will tell you that disaster awaits and that you’re contributing to the downfall of society (gay marriage anyone?). That doing things differently or believing something different is bad and that you are bad.
I’ve always sort of lived my life between these two worlds of tribal norms and marching to my own beat, but about 5 years ago, I started a quest to get my shit together in an effort to deal with my alcoholism. I studied religion and spirituality on a broad spectrum, from Christianity to Buddhism. I began to meditate and in my opinion, that was the key. Regular meditation gave me incredible clarity and that was when I began to see that my beliefs were based on nothing. They just weren’t true.
This is what I want to tell you: if you’re struggling (and we all are, let’s be honest) and you’re trying to find relief or a path or a solution or something, start questioning. Everything. Are your beliefs based on something you think you’re supposed to believe because “I was raised this way”. That doesn’t work. That may be why you’re struggling. You’ve found yourself in a place that just doesn’t feel right because you’ve followed the rules that were set out by your tribe, but it’s not workin’ for you.
My political beliefs were the biggest casualty in my awakening. I’m now ashamed at some of the things I stridently supported over the years. These were things that someone told me were true and based on my background and my tribal (family) filters, I just took them as truth. The only real truth is that we have no idea what is actually true or false; there are just too many gray areas and too many things that I just honestly don’t know.
In regard to religion, I have no idea what “God” thinks or wants us to do, other than be kind to our fellow humans and show compassion and be helpful, rather than hurtful. Again, I’m ashamed at some of my past performances in this regard.
For me, it was absolutely empowering and freeing to admit to myself that I just don’t know and that nobody does. It’s the great mystery, isn’t it? God or the creator or the universe gives us little hints as to which way to go and we just have to listen. It’s in our physiology. We have intuition that we too often ignore, so that we can listen to the tribal norms or the louder noise of “this is the way things have always been done”.
Start scrubbing and don’t miss even the tiniest corners because a lot of stuff lurks in there that needs to be rousted out and examined. Don’t wait. I wish I had started so much earlier. Be well.
What am I learning? That is my new mantra that is barely beating out “what am I feeling?”. I guess as I approach a sort of milestone birthday, it’s about time to begin asking myself some probing questions. I do have a journalism degree, after all.
What I’m learning is that it’s never too late for new reactions and behaviors to blossom; it often just requires a catalyst. The losses and challenges of the past 12 months have cracked me open and stuff like love, patience, empathy and generosity are oozing out and the more it oozes, the bigger the crack becomes.
My dog Chili died almost a year ago and that was a searing pain that brought me right to my knees. Then, my dad died in April and that knocked me completely off my axis. I had no idea that losing a parent could be so disorienting and shocking. I thought I was prepared. I wasn’t. You probably weren’t either.
Those deaths numbed me, but my mother cracked me open. Seeing her lose her husband and lover and companion of nearly 75 years drove an arrow deep into my heart. She relied on him so completely for her physical and emotional support and then in an afternoon, she was without him. Forever.
My husband and I are childless by choice. I have not regularly had to put someone else’s well being and needs above my own. That’s just an honest assessment. Yes, we’ve taken care of each other over the years. He had cancer. I’ve battle alcoholism, but it’s not the same as caring for a child. Or an elderly parent.
My mother will be 94 in a couple of weeks and the past month has been very difficult for her, with a couple of hospitalizations and now a rehab facility to get her strong enough to return to her assisted living facility. She has needed us in a way that I’ve never felt needed before.
I’ve cut up her food, cajoled her to eat, changed her diaper, helped her dress, undress, brush her teeth, advocated for her care, nagged health care providers, often on weekends. She has at times been so foggy about her circumstances that it scared the crap out of me. She asks the same questions over and over and I’ve patiently answered over and over. I’ve tried to reassure her that she’ll get better and ‘go home’. The hardest was when she woke up and groggily asked me why my dad wasn’t there.
Here’s the deal: I’ve never been patient, I’ve never been all that nurturing (to people…different story with my pets) and I’ve always run away from hard stuff like this. This time, I’m running toward it. Toward her. And I am getting so much out of being with her right now. The love and protection that I feel is nearly overwhelming and I have more clarity on so many things in my life, but the one thing that I am sure of is that we moved back to Michigan for a reason and this is it.
I bought our farm over the course of a weekend, with very little research or thought. I went back to Colorado and told my husband that I wanted to move back ‘home’. We put our house on the market, I informed my co-workers and bosses of my plans and we packed up and moved, even though I loved Colorado and I loved our place in the mountains. There was no questioning this feeling that we had to go.
Something was compelling me home and I didn’t resist it, even though I didn’t quite understand it. Now I get it. We spent more time with both of my parents over a six month period than we had in years. We spent Christmas and Thanksgiving with them and my dad got to see our little farm. He was so proud and then, he died and I’ve been here to help my mom transition to life without my dad and eventually to transition to join him.
It’s been so hard and it would have been so much easier to be in Colorado for all of this; far removed from all of the drama and dirty work. Love shoved me home; love cracked me open like an egg and for that, I’m so grateful.
Yesterday’s meditation was about gratitude. A lot of guided meditations reference gratitude, since many of us tend to focus on what’s wrong with our lives or the world, rather than what’s right. I happen to tend toward the former and have to be regularly reminded of the latter.
Having said that, there is also reason to be grateful for some of the not so good things in our lives. Our reaction to the more painful and uncomfortable things can be good; the suffering often acts as fertilizer. It promotes growth when we realize that we can not only survive difficult situations, but learn valuable lessons from them.
Our challenges often promote a surge of empathy for others in similar circumstances and if we look clearly and closely, we see that every single human on earth is navigating through their own obstacle course. That awareness makes us more patient and kind and forgiving and I believe, happier. In my experience and opinion, empathy is the precursor for kindness and compassion. And we all need more of that. If you watch any news at all, you know in your core that the world needs more of that.
So, back to gratitude. During my meditation yesterday, I began to relax and mentally list what I was grateful for and I started with my husband, my dogs, my family and my home. Then as I widened the circle, I began to see my friends and I began to smile, then laugh and then I felt an intense surge of emotion that I can only describe as love and light and tenderness toward these people who mean so much to me.
It was a moment of light and clarity that I wish happened more often while sitting in meditation. I tend to get caught up in the day to day administrative aspects of life. Bills, paycheck, household chores, errands, appointments, job, blah, blah, blah. Those things occupy too much of my personal hard drive and it takes sitting quietly, watching my breath, to remind me of the important stuff; the things that fill my soul. It’s taken me a long time to realize that those soul-fillers are my tribe. My humans; people that I’ve picked or have picked me.
So, yes. I’m grateful for all of you. You are my tribe and I love you.
I have awakened. I have rebounded. I’ve crawled out of the well of unhappiness and depression and self-pity that I’ve scuttled around in for the past few months. And it feels great. It feels free. I feel free.
I’m writing about this because I’m a serial ‘sharer’ of my feelings and experiences, but I also believe that some of you may be able to pluck something out of my experience that you’ll find helpful to your own journey. That’s just how I roll.
As painful and humiliating as it is to admit this, I fell off the wagon. I started dabbling with drinking after my dad died in April. I could make excuses, but there really aren’t any. I was just looking for some sort of relief in a painful period. I got none, but I continued to dance between light and darkness. This was not a full-blown, drunken relapse, but one day, I woke up and had enough with the guilt and the sleeplessness and the excuses.
On that morning, I walked into the living room where my husband was sitting, confessed that I had been drinking again and told him I needed his help. He wasn’t even aware that I’d been sneaking the booze because alcoholics and addicts are great fakers and liars, until we go over the edge which inevitably happens when you dabble where you shouldn’t.
Ever since that morning, my desire to drink evaporated. Gone. No thoughts about ‘just one beer’; no plotting to buy wine for ‘cooking’. Nada. What happened? I owned up. I blurted it out and asked for help. I admitted my powerlessness and my weakness and my flaws. And it felt great. I was liberated.
So, here is my lesson for you. Own it. Admit it. Quit trying to power your way through. Let go. Let me repeat that, in case you’ve never gotten the message from my previous posts: let go.
My relapse began as a way to dull the pain of a lot of loss that I was feeling, but it perpetuated itself when I began to feel immense guilt and self-loathing for my relapse. Once I admitted that I needed help and wanted to break this cycle, the sun rose, the birds sang, rainbows and unicorns appeared and I no longer felt the urge to succumb to the siren call of the booze.
This was a huge awakening for me and today, as I sit here at my computer, I can feel my lost mojo returning. My strength is back. My perspective is back and the biggest shift that has occurred in the past couple of weeks, is that I’m focusing on the needs of others.
In taking care of myself, I’ve become more loving to those I love. I spent a marvelous weekend with my mom at her assisted living facility. We talked and went out for meals and and just hung out. I felt so much love and appreciation for her.
My other focus is my marriage; being more loving and supportive of my husband who has been through his own difficult journey. I realized that I can only control my behavior and it’s time for me to give the love and support that he deserves. For too long, my career was the priority in our marriage, rather than our bond and relationship. Those days are over. WE are now the priority. Period.
My introspection will continue, but with a new focus on how my behavior and my reactions can nurture and support others. So, rather than beat myself up over my relapse, I’m saying it was a necessary step for my growth. It was a dark time physically and emotionally, but it has launched me into a new feeling of lightness and yes, happiness.
Look inward, but focus outward. Be well.