Reflections on a Life

Reflections on a Life

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

I'm Listening

A couple of weeks ago I started a class entitled 'Listen to My Life' that has been run several times in the past by one of my dearest friends.  Penny is a pastor at one of those monster churches - we fondly refer to it as 'Six Flags Over Jesus' - that is attracting people by the thousands.  She has more work to do than any 3 people normally can manage AND she worked with this group of women who were gathering to tell the story of their lives and listen to the tellings. 

Penny, knowing me as well as she does, knew that this class would be something I would be drawn to and fall in love with.  What's not to love, really?  Women?  Gathering together to talk about the things that matter most to them?  Talking about their life stories?  Talking about how God has worked through and played in their lives?  Learning to listen exquisitely and ask questions - not for clarification, but to help others better understand their story?

Eating brownies, for God sakes?!

Yeah, that sounds like me, alright.  Penny knows me well.

So, last night was the beginning of the reflection of lives, not just the 'meet and greet' that has been happening the last two weeks (in which this WOO thrives, by the way...)  I knew it could be awkward.  I knew it would be hard.  I knew there would be tears.  And laughter.  I knew some people would be uncomfortable.  I knew my heart would open and break at some of what was going to be shared.  I knew that we risk much telling these stories.  (We have all sworn to confidentiality, so there won't be any sharing here, unless it is my story.)

What I didn't realize and am now processing is how much the stories of others would unlock places inside my heart and my mind and my memory.  I had a journal there with me and was quickly writing as others spoke, remembering things that needed to also go into my story.  I didn't want to miss a word of what was being said and didn't want to work on me as others were sharing to the depths of their souls.  But, I was surprised that I could forget some really important events that made such a difference in my life.

So I scribbled furiously, listening as attentively as possible and wondered at the forgetting.  Why would I forget the jobs?  College?  Talking about my father?  My mother and brothers?  Odd things, really, to leave out of a life's story.  And then the pit of my stomach started churning.... really hurting in a fear-like kind of way.

I took a picture once that reminds me of this familiar feeling.  We had been hiking in New Zealand with a tour and were told that early one morning our guides would be going to the river and feeding the eels.


So early the next morning I hiked down to the river and watched as the chicken scraps were thrown onto the river bank.  Within moments, the water was churning and writhing with these eels, all black and sinewy and slithering over each other. 

It looked like my definition of Hell.  And it reminded me of the way I feel, sometimes.  

I recognized the feeling I was having during this Tuesday night class as a stage fright kind of feeling, but didn't know why I should be suffering from anything like that.  I didn't have to say anything that night, I wasn't going to be 'on' with a less than complete life story... I had another week or two to be able to fill it out more completely.  And, besides, no one in that class would know whether I had really done my homework or not.  I had nothing to be afraid of.

If that was what it was.

What was I feeling?

Ah, yes.  The sadly too-familiar feeling of not being authentic - not really being 'true' to myself.  This prayer for authenticity I have said for years continues to be answered in opportunities to 'be' my prayer and here it was.  Again.

I have spent so many years being 'the strong one' - in my family, in my church, with my friends.  Goodness, even as a little girl I felt like I needed to be 'strong' for my mom.   She had gone through so much heartache in her life that I decided at a very young age never to do anything intentionally that might hurt her. 

And here I was, again, presenting the 'strong side' of Ruth.  Although the story I had mapped out was one that had ups and downs, I recognized that I had left out anything that might show me as fragile or flawed or weak.  I was mapping out vulnerabilities... but I was leaving out the stories that might really show some of the inner rooms of my heart that had never been truly explored.

There is a reoccurring dream I have that puts me in a house - a familiar house in my waking - that, in the dream,  I live in.  The house changes occasionally, but thematically it is the same.  I am walking through a house I know intimately, but keep opening doors to new rooms or finding stairways to new levels that I had never explored or discovered before.  Mostly, the dream house rooms are crowded with the trappings of life - furniture and clothing, dishes and pictures.  And cobwebs!  But occasionally, those rooms are painted white and pristine and echo-y empty.

Always I wonder, in my dream, how I could live somewhere and not know all that is there to know about the house and the rooms and the things in them?!  How could I occupy something as important as a home and not know everything in it like the back of my hand, not explore it and open all the doors and the closets and the drawers?

And clean it up, for pity sake?

And how is it possible for me to occupy my own life and not be opening all the doors and climbing all the stairs?  And yes, even cleaning out the cobwebs if need be.

So, life.... I am listening.  Truly, lovingly listening.

And I know what you have to teach me will be profound.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Continuous Loops

I just finished watching a movie called "Happy Accidents" with Marisa Tomei and Vincent D'Onofrio that neatly fits in my all time favorite love story category of 'love through space and time'.  My fascination with this kind of story started with 'The Ghost and Mrs. Muir' when I was a little girl and was later fed by 'Somewhere in Time'.  Other notable offerings in this genre are 'Ghost',  'The Lake House', 'Sliding Doors' and, most recently, 'The Time Traveler's Wife'.

The all time great, though, (in my opinion) is 'Groundhog Day' with Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell.  This movie qualifies on so many levels of the requirements of love transcending time and space that it almost represents its own category.  It also represents, in my opinion, one of the finest lessons on Buddhist teaching made available for mass audiences to 'get' (or not).

In a nutshell for anyone who may not be familiar with the story; the hapless hero so despises his life that he shows nothing but disdain for himself and others.    He wants only what feels good immediately and has zero empathy or compassion for anything or anybody.  So, life (that great equalizer) conspires to make him repeat the same day - ad nauseum - until he 'gets it right'.....

He gets to do the same day - the exact same things - over and over again until he learns to make the best of it all.  Until he learns his lessons - compassion, loving-kindness, empathy, balance, joy.

In other words, he gets to relive that one day of his life until he learns to 'love' enough.

A movie-primer on reincarnation, the greatest of continuous loops.

I happen to believe in reincarnation and always have from probably my earliest thoughts on life and how we came to be here.  I have never accepted the premise that we 'only go around once'.  My mother always told a story of looking into my newborn eyes and marveling on the wisdom they contained those first precious days.  She recited this poem to me often....

George Macdonald (1824 - 1905)

Where did you come from, baby dear?
Out of the everywhere into the here.

Where did you get those eyes so blue?
Out of the sky as I came through.

What makes the light in them sparkle and spin?
Some of the starry spikes left in.

Where did you get that little tear?
I found it waiting when I got here.

What makes your forehead so smooth and high?
A soft hand strok'd it as I went by.

What makes your cheek like a warm white rose?
I saw something better than anyone knows.

Whence that three-corner'd smile of bliss?
Three angels gave me at once a kiss.

Where did you get this pearly ear?
God spoke, and it came out to hear.

Where did you get those arms and hands?
Love made itself into bonds and bands.

Feet, whence did you come, you darling things?
From the same box as the cherubs wings.

How did they all just come to be you?
God thought about me, and so I grew.

But, how did you come to us,  you dear?
God thought about you, and so I am here.

How could I not believe that I had come from something and somewhere else?  Continuous loops are just in my personal programming.

Some have told me that reincarnation is just an elegant and convenient way for us to 'get away' with (literally) murder - amongst other things - here and now and never really get 'caught'.  They argue that if everyone believed they could just come back and get another chance at life as opposed to fearing an eternity of punishment, then we would be giving ourselves permission for all sorts of gratuitous and bad behavior - why would anyone live their lives with any decency or morals if there aren't immediate consequences to fear?  Personally, I think that argument speaks more to individual feelings of repression than a true sense of human decency.  And I know that argument has made most of the world's religions a lot of money over the centuries.

(I also happen to believe that reincarnation was an early accepted tenet in Christianity......  after all, we Christians have always talked about and continue to expect 'the second coming' of Christ and we are NOT referring to a different guy!)

But.  The continuous loops that got me writing today are the ones we experience in this lifetime.  Everyone has them.  Call it karma, if you want, but it is dealing with the same nonsense over and over again; the same obnoxious boss or co-worker, getting stuck - again - in the slowest moving line, dealing with the same kind of relationships again and again.  Basically, running into the same reoccurring storyline with different situations and people.  Same stuff, different day.  Over and over again.

For me there are a couple reoccurring story-lines that I just know are mine to figure out in this lifetime. (No, not sharing what mine are, just that they are....)   Even though there was always a 'deja vu' quality to them, I was floored by them each and every time and they left me - often - devastated or flummoxed or both. 

I recently heard a sermon on prayer that discussed the possibility that an answer to a prayer is not being given what we have prayed for, but being given instead the opportunity to be what we are praying for - to live into the prayer, if you will.  If our prayer is for courage, the answer is being given the opportunity to be courageous.  If my prayer is to be authentic, then maybe I am continuously being given the opportunity to choose authenticity.

To go back to the movie 'Happy Accidents',  the character played by Ms. Tomei has a need to fix people - boyfriends in particular - and is seeing a therapist to try to break the legacy she has made for herself and feels she is making progress, repeating her self affirmations into the mirror day and night.  Then she runs into Sam who seems healthy and normal, until he starts telling a story of being a time-traveler who has come back just for her and she just knows she is in her continuous loop.  Again.

(Just in case anyone wants to see it, I won't be giving any spoiler information so keep reading.)

The therapist has convinced her that until she learns her lesson she will continue to doom herself with picking wrong men and ending up broken and alone every time.  The solution to her reoccurring storyline is to learn her life's balance and to look for her joy without letting anyone invade her boundaries and upset that balance.

(Okay, one spoiler.  All things aren't as they appear.  There is another continuous loop playing out.... and there is a happy ending.  I guess that really was three.  So there.)

In my current love-through-space-and-time life story, the great good news is that I have started to see these story-lines for what they are as they are beginning.   That doesn't mean I am always responding differently, but at least I am beginning to recognize them for what they are - one more opportunity to work on something that I still have to do in this lifetime that will make me stronger.  The chance for me to - again and again - live my prayer for authenticity and truth.  I think that when I figure out how to live consistently into the opportunity presented, maybe the deja vu of that loop will cease to be.

So, there may be Grace in continuous loops.

Who knew?