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Archive for February, 2012

The God-Sized Hole

In recent days, a couple of lay persons (separate from each other) mentioned the old  “God-sized hole” metaphor people use to describe our natural human state of desire and discontent. I view this as the same thing The First Noble Truth refers to in Buddhism where Buddhists use the term Dukkha to describe that constant longing, natural desire, or discontentment that comes along with being human. I understand the idea behind the “God-sized hole;” however, I’m sometimes frustrated by the expression. Religion, and even just the idea of God, created an even deeper level of suffering for me during my darkest days of depression. I hated myself for my inability to believe. People would say, “Anyone can believe in God,” or “Anyone can be a Christian by accepting Jesus into his/her heart.” I wondered how I was supposed to make myself believe if it didn’t feel true. I wanted to believe. I think religion is a wonderful comfort for people who have it. My experience reminds me of the Anne Sexton quote, “I love faith, but have none.” The nuns here often talk about Faith as a gift. I like this idea, because I’m beginning to believe in the power of Faith–just not conventional faith, and not faith in God. The word faith is taking on an entirely different meaning for me.

It’s a bit cliche to say, but my most confident faith rests in love–in only its purest and altruistic form. That sort of love possesses even more power than hate, but it’s rare that we get to see love in its fiercest form.

Some people believe God is altruistic love. Fine by me. It’s because of that belief that many folks have told me they don’t believe I’m an atheist. This interpretation also provides a way I can talk with the nuns about “God.” For example, one of the sisters I’m closest with here was telling me she read something about how we get answers to our prayers “from God” in our hearts. That doesn’t seem to differ much from what my atheist, pagan, and/or buddhist friends do when they look deep into their hearts for answers.

I’m beginning to see how many of the spiritual disagreements are really just a fight about the language used to articulate spirituality. It took many arguments with others about how they define my own beliefs for me to decide how to handle answering when someone asks me if I believe in God. I ask them to define God. If they’re talking about a Person-Like Being in the sky that judges me like Santa Clause, then no. Absolutely not. If they’re talking about the energy we all experience that goes beyond what our five senses can absorb or our language can capture, then sure. I’m just scarred by the word from growing up. Yet, I find people sometimes replace the word GOD with another way to refer to the same idea when I express my trouble with the word. Yet, they still preach to me about this old-school idea of God, simply using a different word. Trust me, I’ve tried praying to “The Great Spirit,” “Higher Power,” or even using Mother instead of father. Changing the word isn’t enough to help me get rid of the guilt and fear based deity from conventional religion.

On a separate, but somewhat similar note, tomorrow is Ash Wednesday. I can’t even remember the last time I observed a Lenten holy day. It’s not that I suddenly believe in the significance of the day; however, I still plan to use tomorrow as a day of reflection–refusing to even touch my computer, phone, TV, or Ipod. This might not sound all that difficult for only one day, but keep in mind I don’t have school, work, or friends around to help me pass the time. I’ve been craving some stillness in my life due to feeling increasingly chaotic. With my 9 day hiatus from the convent fast approaching, I understand the chaos could grow increasingly worse while I break my routine for all sorts of fun activities. Since the sisters will already be fasting and reflecting all day tomorrow, it seemed like a good time for me to do the same.

I’m not sure if I’ll blog during my nine days away from the convent, which will start this Friday night. Because of this, I hope to blog one more time  before I leave. Maybe I’ll have some grand epiphany tomorrow during my day of silence to blog about on Thursday–however my “grand epiphany” is usually the same–about how I can’t force epiphanies, and most of my personal growth and realizations are much more subtle, and I need to respect that. I suppose it’s time I had another one of those epiphanies about how I need to stop seeking epiphanies. That will be my goal for tomorrow 🙂

Brushing Up on Life

The last few days, I conducted an archeological dig through a bunch of my old writing–some of it from as far back as 7th grade. It proved to be an emotional roller coaster–thankfully not the kind that go upside down, because I’m not puking as I type this. Yet, it sure yanked my gut around. It was like reading a piece of literature where the audience knows something the character doesn’t. For example, the irony I felt when I found the blog entry where I’m rationalizing my choice to stop taking my anti-depressants. Writing about how healthy I felt, I knew I wouldn’t fall back into the depths of despair I’d been in. I had learned too much about the illness to let it take over my life again. Keep in mind about six months after I wrote that, I was in an even deeper depression than I could have imagined. Reading it felt like I was watching a scary movie where the killer was hiding in the shower, and I wanted to shout, “Don’t do it!” while the character turns the knob to the bathroom. God, I hate that type of movie.

While there were plenty of embarrassing parts, I also felt compassion for my younger self. Some of my young reflections really impressed me. I was sharing excerpts with one of my best friends, and she said, “Geez, no wonder you were a lonely kid. Who thought about these things at those ages? My God, who are you?” I laughed, but felt validated in a way that I never had been. I think that is why I’m so quick to favor children I observe off alone and thinking a lot (when I work with children in the summer). I understand they are extra sensitive and perceptive, so I try to love and encourage them with everything I have. It, hopefully, helps them gain confidence while also helping me make peace with myself as a child. As a child, I had overwhelming amounts of guilt and self-hate. It’s a shame to think about, because I’ve recently realized what a thoughtful and sensitive kid I could be.

The most shocking of my old writing was a poem I wrote in 7th grade. It was an assignment for an English class called, “I Remember.” We had to start each line of the poem with “I remember…”  The poem itself is not any good (I mean, let’s be real, I was like 12?) Yet, there were several things that shocked me. First, I talked about how time was moving too fast, and I felt like I couldn’t control it. I also reflected on how I complained of being bored as a kid, but I would give anything to have time to be bored. The real kicker comes when I talk about how I used to be afraid of failure and hated how hard it was to succeed. Apparently at the wise age of twelve, I’d realized that failure is necessary to succeed and success only feels rewarding because it is so challenging to attain. I read that, thinking, “My God, Child, you aren’t gonna even BEGIN to know that in your heart until everything you’re terrified of happens when you’re 21.” This realization made me accept that despite having “failed,” or at least having failed in the eyes of my old self, I’m still afraid of failing. Why? Apparently life is a series of cumulative exams. Just “knowing something” once isn’t enough. When I feel anxious about the future, I will have to pull out the flash cards I’ve been studying since 7th grade. Brushing up on life, preparing for the next test.

Bad Writing

Winter has officially arrived. I shouldn’t complain since it normally sets in around November, but it got cold fast. My sinuses can’t handle the pressure that comes with 40 degree temperature changes, so I’ve spent the past few days ingesting different forms of decongestants, in addition to moping around in sweatpants.

Last night, I finally got to see the documentary “Bad Writing.” It starts with the director, Vernon Lott, talking about how in his late teens and early twenties, he thought he was born to be a writer. Like many young artists, he wanted to be the next Kerouac or Ginsberg. He’d never taken a writing class or even graduated high school. Yet, like many young wannabe writers, he liked drinking and smoking and felt certain he had an artistic talent that went unappreciated because he was ahead of his time.

The director is now in his thirties and has just found the boxes of writing he saved in his mother’s basement. With ten more years of perspective, he realizes his writing is painfully bad. This realization, that his writing days were a delusion, mixed with the fact he now studies writing as an undergraduate, got him reflecting on what makes writing good or bad. He takes this question on the road, interviewing a great variety of professional writers and teachers.

It’s a great film, but painfully awkward at times. The director is such a sympathetic character, because he doesn’t hide his awkward vulnerability. In fact, one of the writers he interviewed (wish I could remember which one) was reflecting on beginner writers. He said even though the writing might be “bad,” it possesses  an “embarrassing sincerity” that can’t be discredited. The movie has an element of that embarrassing sincerity–not in a bad way, but in a way that is relatable, and a bit of a painful reminder about the vulnerability that comes with being an artist. I think the better we get at the elements of craft, the more of a protective barrier we feel between the raw subject matter and ourselves. This documentary reminded me that it takes courage to write, even if we don’t ever show another human being our work. To sit down and face ourselves in something concrete like words, is hard and sometimes scary.

I think that’s why I always adore my creative writing teachers. I respected all my profs in college, regardless of subject. I appreciate what they do, and I’d even like to teach at the college level some day. I always called them “Dr. ____”  and interacted very formally with them. I even started doing that in my intro to creative writing class. However, I quickly realized that a creative writing class will never be like a biology class. I decided if I had to turn in all of these personal, messy first drafts to someone, then I’d better be on a first-name-basis with him or her. Luckily, I’ve never met a creative writing prof who is uncomfortable being addressed by his or her first name. It is also a deeper, more respect-filled relationship because students get to read the instructor’s work too. I don’t know any other subject where you get to learn so much about your instructor’s personal life. It really creates a powerful connection. So, in that sense, I suppose the movie also reminded me to appreciate the wonderful mentors I’ve had in my young writing life.

Having time to watch all these neat documentaries and learn about anything and everything is really a gift I can’t begin to explain. Today, I slept most of the afternoon and evening. I felt down about myself and was beating myself up about “being lazy.” Luckily, I’ve gained a healthy perspective back (thanks to my great support system), and I realized I’ve been absorbing new information around me at rapid speeds this week. I’ve had a lot on my mind, and the sisters are quick to remind me that Sunday is a day of rest. I guess, I took that quite literally. I shall go back to being content and learning tomorrow. For tonight, I’ll just learn to both BE and be okay with it.

2 in 1

The Bible and I have been frenemies for a variety of reasons throughout my life. I wasn’t very old when I realized some of the stories weren’t as nice as they seemed. First, it hit me that the cute Noah’s Ark story I drew pictures of in catechism was actually more like a genocide than God choosing cute little animals to take a boat ride. Then I realized the Abraham story was really cruel, and I hoped my parents wouldn’t sacrifice me to an angry God. However, I dismissed my confusion as part of my youth, agreeing to allow authority figures to interpret The Bible for me.

As I got a little older, I wasn’t satisfied with what my catechism teachers and priests were telling me, so I decided to read the book myself. I probably made resolutions to read the thing from cover-to-cover ten different times throughout my teenage years. I’d always give up not too far into Genesis, and then feel like both a moral and intellectual failure for not sticking with it.

I lost my faith late in my teens, which relieved the pressure of learning The Bible for morality purposes; however, around that time I became a religion minor, so I still had a relationship with the book from a scholarly perspective. In many of my secular religion classes, we didn’t interact directly with The Bible. Although, for the first time in my life, I read all four gospels for a class I took on the historical Jesus. Actually, now that I’m thinking about it, I probably didn’t read all four. I was supposed to read all four, but I probably only read pieces, making sure to go to class and underline important passages we talked about. To be fair, this was the year I was falling into my worst depression, so I did what I had to in order to get by.

The Bible anxiety came back again tonight. I’ve been meaning to read The Book of Job ever since listening to a radio show about depression and spirituality about five or six years ago when they compared Job’s despair to depression. I’ve never really had the time to look at it. It seems like in the past few months, everyone has been talking about Job. The reading at mass on Sunday was even from Job. So now that I’m getting my reading confidence back (I couldn’t finish a book if my life depended on it in the past few months) after completing one book in less than a week and nearly being done with another, I’ve decided to dive into Job. I’ll be sure to blog about how that goes at some point.

***

The priest who lives here is a kind man. I disagree with him on a good majority of political and moral issues, but I like that he listens. He even seems to enjoy conversations with me, especially if he wants a young, secular perspective on something. I was flattered the other day when he handed me an article he printed off specifically for me. He said, “Now, I want your honest opinion on this. I think this guy’s right on, but don’t sugar coat your response. It just reminded me of several of our conversations about the necessity of patience and waiting.”

A few days prior, he’d asked me how writing was going. I told him I haven’t been writing much, but I feel my spirit shifting like something good is near. I explained I spend my days absorbing a strange variety of information between all of the documentaries, radio shows, articles, and books I read. It’s all mixing together, waiting to pour out when the time feels right. He connected this to a conversation we’d had about a month before when his sister passed away. I’d asked him if he was taking time to grieve, and we agreed on the importance of allowing ourselves to really feel grief and learning from it–instead of ignoring the feelings only for them to resurface later in life, most likely in unhealthy ways.

This article he gave me was written by a priest who was reflecting on a time when a plane abroad was delayed for 28 hours with no explanation or food for the passengers. He talked about how furious and indignant the Western passengers became during that time while the other passengers from a variety of other locations stayed calm. He then went on to talk about how our culture, especially with the improvements in technology, portrays having to wait for something as bad. I, too, agreed with a good portion of the article. I liked that the man used a metaphor of “negative experiences,” such as grief, as a pregnancy, suggesting if we let the pregnancy develop, it will birth something new. My only discomfort was when the writer started getting into sexual morality, claiming my generation never learned how to wait for anything, so how could we learn to wait for something as powerful as sex. The priest and I had a great dialogue about what sorts of cultural changes have taken place to make some of the old “sexual morality” unrealistic. We agreed it’s not just my generation being impatient.

There’s been a lot of uncomfortable conversations around me about all of the political controversy about the government so-called infringing on religious freedom. I usually don’t say much, because I agree with the new legislation completely. Once in a while I’ll defend an over-generalization I overhear, but usually I sit in silence. It was a wonderful surprise that the priest went out of his way to print an article that made him think of a discussion he’d had with me, and then take it a step further to want my honest thoughts. It reminded me about how healing my time here has been. I have far less anger toward The Church thanks to the gracious and pious individuals here where I live.

The more times I read this

The more times I read this, the more brilliance seeps out of it. It captures both the racing thoughts that come along with depression, falling into a depression, and healing from said depression. Consider checking it out:

How To Be Emotionally Stable Without Getting Bored « Thought Catalog.

 

OR, if you don’t like reading, or absorb things better by listening to them with music in the background. Check this out:

 

Conquering A Blank Screen

I just deleted three paragraphs. It was shallow, bordering on cheesy. A blog is both a tremendous gift and a creativity killer. I love that I can share my thoughts with people who care about me. It is also helpful, because I get a lot of support from readers that motivates me to keep writing when I don’t feel like it. Yet, writing for such a general audience where I can get immediate feedback sucks the creativity right out of me. It’s unlike any other form of writing. Even with the small publications I’ve had, the writing starts out as so private. First drafts are so vulnerable and scary. Normally the only people who get to see my first drafts are other writers who understand how raw, messy, and self-absorbant first drafts can be. This allows me to write without the paranoia (or maybe I should say with less paranoia) about what other people will think of me.

With a blog, I try to treat it like an online journal, to allow people who care about me into my mind. However, I know how the internet and social media work. It’s not just people who care about me who read this. Knowing that I don’t know who all reads this combined with the fact that I don’t get to do a million drafts and receive feedback in between each post, there’s a necessary guard up between my readers and me. I’m disturbed by this because I’m staying with nuns and trying to write a confessional memoir because I believe in truth and the importance of human connection. Yet, I find myself giving a false sense of transparency on here.

Examining this, I realized that this false sense of transparency is a defense mechanism I developed young. It is why people have always been so shocked whenever I experience a major depressive episode and whatever consequences roll in along with that. They will have been certain I was so happy. I apparently can make people feel like they know me very quickly. And I do try to be open and let people know me easily, especially if they take a genuine interest in getting to know me. It’s difficult to explain, but I have valued honesty and integrity above all in my life, which caused me to learn to lie to myself in order to prevent lying to others. I’ve experienced great states of denial about many things, but mostly my own mental health and emotional well being. I used to be able to talk myself into believing just about anything. And I still struggle with the fact I tend to believe what other people say about how I’m feeling over how I’m actually feeling. It comes down to the fact that I don’t trust my mind. It plays tricks on me, so I don’t always know what’s true.

My ability to unintentionally talk my way around things can cause problems where I accidentally mislead therapists sometimes. For example, they will ask how I feel, and I genuinely don’t know. So I will give them some long-winded technical answer trying to psychoanalyze myself saying things like: I’m feeling good emotionally, but I’m still having sleep problems, but I worry I’m over-thinking the sleep problems, and then I remember I felt depressed two days ago, but that was probably just a bad day, and I had some nightmares, but everyone has bad dreams, and a friend told me I seemed depressed when I didn’t feel depressed so that made me depressed, but then another friend told me I was radiating positive energy when I was feeling anxious, so I took a few deep breaths until I felt some of the positive energy she said I was radiating…

I’ve talked far too many therapists out of believing I had a problem. Even my new therapist seems a bit too impressed by my politeness and ability to articulate more complex feelings. She even admitted to being more familiar working with angry troubled teens who come in saying nothing but “F-this and F-that and F-them” as opposed to young adults like me who come in with existential crises. I suppose I should admit I don’t feel challenged enough yet. I don’t see her all that regularly, so I’m sure it’s hard to challenge me when she doesn’t know me that well.

The only real update in this entry: I’m currently experiencing a lot of positive shifts in my way of thinking the past week or so, and I’m not yet ready to put it into words. Maybe I’ll try writing poetry this week–just to get the words flowing.

So, basically, this negative sounding blog is simply a long rant to explain why I’m not doing much writing on my own, or even producing the quality of blog entries I’d like to be.  It is also just my way of conquering the glaring blank screen and the fact that I hadn’t blogged in a bit. Take that, blank wordpress page!