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Posts tagged ‘Ash Wednesday’

Whirlwind of Chaos

The last couple of weeks have been filled with some intense ups and downs. I’ll start where I left off by mentioning my Ash Wednesday without electronics. I’d made a list of all the things I wanted to accomplish while having no outside distraction. I ended up doing very little of my planned activities. Instead, I just did whatever felt right. The next day, I felt a tinge of disappointment at my lack of productivity until I noticed my mind’s tranquility. I’d been having my typical loud, racing thoughts that come and go as they please in phases throughout the year (maybe month?). Yet without even putting much effort into it–as in no meditating or yoga–just by eliminating distraction, I calmed my mind. I realized that, alone, is a huge accomplishment.

I spent a few days at my parents’ before heading to Chicago for a writing conference. My time at home allowed me to spend time with friends and family I don’t get to see often. It was a nice reminder of what a great support system I have. Being reminded how loved I am does wonders for my mental health.

The actual conference went fantastic. I heard a great variety of talented speakers, ran into old friends from all over, and spent my birthday on top of The Hancock building with a glass of wine, staring at Lake Michigan’s blackness contrasted with the miles and miles of city lights. It was spectacular.

While at the conference, my grandma had a heart attack. My grandma is young; she was often mistaken for my mother all my life. My Maternal grandmother died from a heart attack 5-6 years ago. You’d think that would have taught me how quickly these things can happen. I just didn’t see this coming though. She’s young and gets around great. She even went to visit her brother in Australia just this past November. She’s having open-heart surgery on Tuesday. I’m staying with my family, until at least Wednesday, to be with her during this time.

Also, my friend who shared a room with me received word her best friend’s mom died while we were at the conference. In addition to all of this, I was having some severe, complicated anxiety and racing thoughts. A man walking fast toward my friends and I shouted something at us. I ignored it out of fear we’d get harassed. However, it turned out he was just telling us why the road was blocked off and the street was chaotic. A woman had stepped out in front of the train. This rested heavy on my mind for many reasons. The main reason being that suicide took on a whole deeper level of sadness for me after my own experiences of being suicidal and then being able to experience recovery. Also, I felt guilt about ignoring the man shouting at me. I felt ashamed that I’d judged the man, trying to ask myself the difficult question if the fact the man was Black had been part of my fear. Would I have reacted the same if a white man ran, shouting at me? I’d like to think yes. But, it left me feeling a bit of “white guilt.” However, the next night, something rather traumatic happened where I realized I should have been more paranoid.

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I’d considered walking alone to meet with my ind. study instructor. She’d offered to pay for me to get a cab since she’d moved the location further away from our original meeting place, making my walk much longer. I’m rather uneasy with people giving me things, especially someone I don’t know well, and especially ESPECIALLY someone I believe is already doing me a favor by even meeting up with me in the first place.

Luckily, I was running late, and had to take her up on her offer in order to make it on time. She gave me twice the amount of the cab ride so I could get home. If she’d not have been thoughtful enough to do that, I would have walked home alone. I wasn’t THAT afraid of walking alone in Chicago. When I was in the city for the same conference a few years ago, my brother lived in town. He’d meet up with me in the evenings after work, and then make me ride the train and walk home alone so he could get home to bed in time to wake up for work.

My brother is 3 years older than me, but only one inch taller and about 20 LBS lighter. He walked alone every day and night, and told me which trains to get on and what way to walk. He said if I just walked confident and didn’t stop for anyone, I’d be fine. I gained a lot of confidence from walking the city alone. I’d usually only be anxious until I reached Michigan Ave, because it’s well-lit and there’s lot’s of people.

Last night, walking on Michigan Ave, only a couple blocks from where the conference was, we were stopped on a corner talking to someone when a group of three Black men stopped behind us. They seemed to be talking to the kid behind us like they knew him, and after my possible “racist fear” the day before, I didn’t want to overreact. The guy we were talking to (long story as to who he was) started to get paranoid and ran away before we were done talking. Laura saw the kid behind me emptying his pockets and told me to run, so we did. Right when I started to run, I heard the kid get hit in the face. We passed the boy we’d been talking to, and he was calling the police and looked like he’d seen a ghost.

I’ve seen fights at school. I even saw a kid getting jumped by a gang on a Native reservation. With the kid getting jumped on the reservation, it was too dark to really see anything but silhouettes, and I was in a car so I didn’t hear it. Hearing this kid get knocked out right behind me was still probably the closest experience with violence I’ve had. My friend and I ran to the nearest food place that was open, which was surprisingly far even though it was only about 8 pm. While we ran, a taxi almost ran me over, despite that they had a red light. We finally went into a Starbucks to catch our breath before finding food.

I was in a state of constant panic the rest of the night. I’m still rather tense and paranoid this evening. The event just triggered all of my own panic, reminding me that no one is ever really safe and to never let my guard down. The event also caused me to attack my morality, calling myself a hypocrite for believing I could ever be courageous in such a situation. Like, I wondered what I’d have done if they’d jumped my friend. Would I just run and call the cops, or try to be with her? Then, of course, I went through all of the “What ifs?”. What if I hadn’t taken a cab to and from my meeting? What if my friend and I hadn’t been talking to that third guy who called the police? Would I have thought to call the police that quickly in all of my fear? What if they pulled a gun? These thoughts then spiraled into much more irrational “what ifs,” like what if I can’t survive on my own ever? And what if I always am as terrible with directions, short-term memory, and driving anxiety as I am now? How will I survive as a functioning adult?

I’m still very thankful I went to the conference and for all of the wonderful people I got to see during my time there. I’m not yet feeling back to normal. I’m sure the rock-hard, small bed I had to share with my friend, not eating routinely or healthily, not taking my vitamins, and drinking beer when I never drink with the nuns was hard on my body. I need to do yoga or something of the sort tomorrow. Hoping for a good night sleep tonight. It’s a miracle what a solid night of sleep can do.

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 🙂