Sunday, November 14, 2010

Giant Omelette Festival - The Big Day

This is my third and final post about the Giant Omelette Festival held in Abbeville LA on Saturday, November 6, and Sunday, November 7, 2010 - and on the first weekend of November every year. My two previous posts recount my drive to Abbeville on Friday, November 5, and my experience of the first day of the festival on Saturday, November 6. This post will tell about the big day of the festival, the day on which the Giant Omelette was cooked and served, Sunday, November 7.

One might wonder where the idea for a Giant Omelette Festival has come from. The story goes that the festival's origins reach back to the days of Napoleon Bonaparte. When Napoleon passed through the town of Bessieres, France, he stayed overnight at an inn where he was served an incredibly delicious omelette. Napoleon enjoyed this omelette so much that he commanded all the eggs in Bessieres to be gathered and a giant omelette to be prepared for his entire army. Thereafter, the tradition has been kept in Bessieres to cook a giant omelette at Easter and serve it to anyone in need.

There is now a Confrérie de l'Omelette, or Confraternity of the Omelette, consisting of Chevaliers, or Knights, from seven towns around the world:

Bessieres, France
Frejus, France
Malmedy, Belgium
Granby, Canada
Dunbea, New Caledonia
Pigue, Argentina
Abbeville, Louisiana, USA

Members of the Confrérie de l'Omelette from each of the seven towns send Chevaliers to the Giant Omelette Festivals of their sister towns. Each town has its Giant Omelette Festival at a different time of year.

At the Giant Omelette Festival in Abbeville this year, the Sunday festivities began with 9 a.m. Mass - La Messe de l'Omelette. The Chevaliers of the Confrérie de l'Omelette processed solemnly into St. Mary Magdalen Church, the chefs wearing tall white chef's hats. A basket of eggs was carried into the church to be blessed. Many of the prayers, readings, and hymns of the Mass were in French.

The national anthems of the various countries represented in the Confrérie were sung. This made me realize that I know very few national anthems - only those of the United States, France, and England. I feel that I should at least know the national anthems of our closest neighbors - Canada and Mexico. I'd like to learn these.

During Mass, we also prayed for those members of the Confrérie who have died. This Confrérie de l'Omelette is something special.

Early in the afternoon, the chefs and eggs paraded to the omelette preparation area in the middle of downtown Abbeville. The Tabasco girls danced. A giant skillet was ready over a wood fire in a huge sandpit. Cajun music accompanied the cracking of the eggs, the beating of the eggs, the adding of the seasonings, the pouring of the eggs and seasonings into the giant skillet, the stirring of the giant omelette in the skillet with large paddles, the adding of the Tabasco sauce.

Finally, the Giant Omelette was ready. It was served to us in bowls with a piece of French bread. Of course, it wasn't really an omelette, but more like scrambled eggs. And it was delicious!

This year's omelette was made with 5,026 eggs! Besides the initial 5000 eggs, one additional egg is included for every year of the festival in Abbeville. This year was the 26th year of Abbeville's Giant Omelette Festival. (Actually, this is a fairly small Giant Omelette, as Giant Omelettes go. The Giant Omelette in Malmedy, Belgium is made with 10,000 eggs, and the one in Pigue, Argentina with 15,000 eggs!)

Here is the recipe for Abbeville's Giant Omelette:

5000+ eggs
50 pounds of onions
75 bell peppers
4 gallons of onion tops
2 gallons of parsley
1-1/2 gallons of cooking oil
6-1/2 gallons of milk
52 pounds of butter
3 boxes of salt
2 boxes of black pepper
Crawfish tails
Tabasco pepper sauce to taste

The Giant Omelette Festival is a wonderful small town festival - not over-crowded, as festivals tend to be in and near New Orleans. I plan to go again next year, as do several of my friends who have heard my enthusiastic account!

You can read much more about Abbeville's Giant Omelette Festival at this website:

I would say that the Giant Omelette Festival is infused with a joyful, loving energy. The spirit of the festival is one of having and sharing a good time and a good omelette!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Giant Omelette Festival - Saturday, November 6

My previous post described my drive from New Orleans to Abbeville LA on Friday afternoon and evening, November 5 (yesterday), for the Giant Omelette Festival. This post will recount what I did on Saturday, November 6 (today). The main day of the festival is actually Sunday, November 7 (tomorrow), when the Giant Omelette will be cooked and served.

This morning I got up early and drove to Breaux Bridge LA for the Zydeco Breakfast at Cafe des Amis, which occurs every Saturday morning. Doors open at 7:30 p.m., and that's right when I arrived. There was, of course, a line of people, but I did get seated in a great spot. I was at a table right by the dance floor but with my back against the wall. Since the Zydeco Breakfast draws quite a crowd, if you come singly or as a party of two, you share your table with others. I sat at a table with Barb and Rich, who are a registered nurse (Barb) and a marriage and family therapist (Rich) from Texas, as well as Sue from Lafayette. We were a nice mix of people and enjoyed each other's company.

Today's musicians were Leroy Thomas and group. The music was wild, and the dancing was wild! There is dance floor (I was seated right next to it), but if the dance floor gets crowded, people just dance between the tables. There are some very enthusiastic dancers! Honestly, the floor pounds, the tables shake, and the cafe au lait in the coffee cups makes waves. It's very energizing!

Now, here's an example of one of the songs. These are the first three lines:

I can't rooster like I used to. (Pronounced "I can't roosta like I usta.")
So I need a booster. (Pronounced "So I need a boosta.")
The girl gave me Viagra.

Believe it or not, I actually danced! Rich and Barb at my table asked me if I'd like to dance, in which case I could dance with Rich. So I said I wasn't much of a dancer but I'd give it a go. Rich was very nice and did just one simple repeated step, which I could follow, though a bit stiffly. It was fun to be part of that dancing crowd!

After the Zydeco Breakfast at Cafe des Amis, I drove back to Abbeville and the Giant Omelette Festival. Several blocks in downtown Abbeville are devoted to the festival. There, booths are set up with food and with many arts and craft. There is also a music stage. I hung out downtown for the early part of the afternoon.

At 1:30 p.m., we had two egg-citing events. (No kidding - in the program for the festival, these are listed as "egg-citing events.") First, you could compete to back a tractor into an egg held in a vise at just the right height, the goal being to crack (not squash) the egg with this projection on the back of the tractor. Most people squashed the egg, but a few succeeded in cracking it. Second, you could participate in an egg toss, but it was with hard-boiled (not raw) eggs.

I ended the day with a delicious supper at Riverfront Restaurant, where you sit overlooking Bayou Vermilion. (Abbeville is in Vermilion Parish.) I had an eggplant dish.

My next post will be about the events of Sunday, November 7 (tomorrow). These will include the Blessing of the Eggs at Mass, the Procession of Eggs and Chefs, and the cooking and serving of the Giant Omelette!

Giant Omelette Festival - Getting There

Here's the beginning of my account of the Giant Omelette Festival in Abbeville LA on Saturday, November 6 (today), and Sunday, November 7 (tomorrow). In this post, I will recount my trip from New Orleans to Abbeville on Friday, November 5 (yesterday).

First, I should mention that I almost didn't go. Such a long drive by myself - and part of the drive after dark. So much to pack - the sleep apnea machine and extra pillows so as to have all the pillows I like (I like nine pillows). So much I could be doing in New Orleans, such as planning lessons and evaluating student work and cleaning house. The Giant Omelette is interesting, but would it really be worth the trip?

So I really, really almost didn't go - but then I went! And it's been marvelous!

I left New Orleans at 3:30 p.m. on Friday, November 5, right after teaching my last class of the week. I took US-90 rather than I-10, and I'm glad I did. It's much less frenetic. Actually, it's not frenetic at all on US-90.

Taking US-90 means that I went through Jeanerette. The Yellow Bowl Restaurant is in Jeanerette. I thought of this as I was approaching Jeanerette - right at supper time. I also realized that, unfortunately, the Yellow Bowl is not on US-90 but off on a back road, and that I had no idea how to find it. But then - I noticed a small sign for the Yellow Bowl with an arrow showing where to turn! I turned. This sign and a second one led me to the Yellow Bowl! Making this stop definitely meant that I would be driving the rest of the way to Abbeville well after sunset. I don't like to drive alone after dark in unfamiliar places, but this is Cajun territory, so I figured I'd be fine.

The Yellow Bowl is a family-owned and -run seafood restaurant. It's been in the same family since the 1950s and is now in the hands of third-generation owners. I ordered a very delicious crab platter.

The after-dark drive from Jeanerette to Abbeville went very smoothly. I arrived at the Best Western in Abbeville about 8:30 p.m. That may seem very long for a 3:30 p.m. departure from New Orleans, but the time period includes walking several blocks from Loyola to my car, getting out of the city in the beginnings of rush-hour traffic, and stopping for supper in Jeanerette.

This Best Western is quite nice - and extremely quiet. No one makes a peep. I found that I slept quite well last night.

My next post will recount my adventures of Saturday, November 6 (today).

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Non-Parental Images of God: Wise Mentor

In my previous post, I explored why I find that parental images of God do not match reality. In this post, I will explore an image of God that I believe does: that of Wise Mentor.

In my previous post, I mentioned that, while an image of God as parent with ourselves as children does not match reality, perhaps an image of God as parent with ourselves as adult sons or daughters does. In a good parent/son or parent/daughter relationship, an adult son or daughter can go to his or her parent to share experiences and to hear the perspective of someone older and wiser. The parent is no longer responsible for the son or daughter and knows that the son or daughter will make his or her own choices, but the parent is happy to share his or her experience, perspective, and wisdom. The parent functions, now, as mentor.

I believe that God can be seen as Wise Mentor. Actually, when in need of wisdom, I find that I can take any of several approaches. (Certainly, these approaches are not the only ones, but these are the ones I like to use.)

Mother God. I can talk to Mother God as her adult daughter. Mother God does not protect me from life in this world or from the consequences of my own actions. When I feel tired or discouraged or overwhelmed, though, she does provide comfort. She also offers wisdom in any particular circumstance. She answers questions. I hear Mother God through my own thoughts. When Mother God communicates something to me, it feels like a simple thought, but a thought that I would not ordinarily have. These thoughts from Mother God can come while I am communicating quietly with her or in the midst of other life activities - while am riding my bicycle or cleaning my house, for instance. Certainly, I cannot prove that these thoughts are communications from Mother God. They do, however, seem to me to be communications from Mother God, and I choose to believe that they are.

Irma, Mike, Sandra. My deceased mother, Irma; my deceased father, Mike; and my deceased sister, Sandra are also sources of wisdom. I sometimes have thoughts that seem to come from Irma or Mike or Sandra. The idea of a family soul and of healing family soul wounds (which I have explored elsewhere on this blog) seems to me to have come from Irma or Mike (I can't now remember which one). Sandra once sent me some clear emergency thoughts on a specific occasion when my thoughts were escalating in a dangerous direction. The thoughts from Sandra were like this: No. Stop. You're about to go over a mental cliff. Just stop. Good. Now back up. Back up with your thoughts. Keep backing up. Keep stepping back. Good. My own thoughts had been heading for a black hole of depression, and I was able to just stop and then to back up to a place of enough mental light so that I could go to bed and sleep peacefully. (This happened at night.) Since then, I have been able to use Sandra's technique successfully on other occasions. I realize that I haven't fully explained the technique, but here I just want to suggest how I receive wisdom from my mother, father, and sister in the spirit world.

My Holy Guardian Angel. I believe that I have a Holy Guardian Angel. Sometimes I ask my Angel for help in opening myself to wisdom. I believe that my Angel knows me quite well and can provide help in ways that I may not fully understand. In other words, my Angel can help in opening my receptive channels for wisdom, but I don't know exactly how my Angel accomplishes this.

My Own Deepest Self. I believe that I have a deep store of wisdom within myself. What I call my deepest self is the core part of me that wants to connect with God, with Being, with Compassion, with Justice, with Beauty, with Joy, with Generosity, with what is Deeply Right, with what is Life Giving and Life Enhancing. This is different from my surface self, who wants to strike back at people who hurt or irritate me, who wants to hoard and hide things for fear that I may otherwise not have enough for myself, who shuns risk-taking in favor of security, whose goal is to get from here to the grave as painlessly as possible. I find it very helpful to simply stand in my place of deep inner wisdom to consider a situation. There, I can see and understand the desires of my surface self, I can acknowledge those desires and have compassion for my fearful surface self, and I can choose to act - not from the surface fear or anger - but from the deeper place of wisdom and compassion.

These are ways that I can connect with Mother God, Irma and Mike and Sandra, my Holy Guardian Angel, and My Deepest Self.

  • Communicating mentally. I quiet myself by breathing deeply, imagining myself breathing through my heart. I picture myself sitting in the presence of any of the above and telling my situation. I then listen quietly. Listening has to be done without expectations, though. It doesn't help to strain to hear an answer. The answer may not come right then. It may come later while I am engaged in some other activity. Sometimes it doesn't come. When an answer doesn't come, I believe that I am not ready to hear the answer or I am not asking the right question.
  • Writing. Writing is a powerful way of accessing inner wisdom. Something about the process of writing brings insights to consciousness. If I write out my conversation with any of the above, I often find insights flowing onto the page or computer screen. In fact, asking my Holy Guardian Angel for help in opening my receptive channels to wisdom and then simply writing about a situation can be very helpful.
  • Just living. Sometimes an insight will simply come to me in the form of a thought without my having asked. The thought just comes as I'm going about the activities of living.

Our Images of God Must Match Reality

The way we picture God has to match reality. I find that parental images of God do not. Or at least parental images of God combined with child images of ourselves do not. God as parent with ourselves as adult sons or daughters - perhaps. God then becomes more of a mentor.

The problem with imaging God as parent - as all-loving Father (or Mother) watching over his or her children (us) - is that this image simply does not correspond to reality. Look at our world, the people in it, and the events that happen. Do you see God behaving as all-loving parent? I do not.

If I were a parent and loved my children, I would NEVER behave as God does. I would NEVER, for example, allow one of my children to hurt another. If I saw my older and stronger child beating up my younger child, I would put an IMMEDIATE stop to it. God does not do this.

God allows the weaker to suffer at the hands of the stronger. Hitler and his henchmen tortured, starved, and killed millions of Europeans for no other reason than that these Europeans were not pure Aryans. Far too many human parents beat, punch, kick, and burn their own children for no other reason that that the parents are in a "bad mood." Far too many men rape women for other reason than that they can. Far too many corporations lay off their workers and send families into financial disaster and even homelessness for no other reason than to give themselves higher and higher profits.

God does not lift a finger to stop the abuse and end the suffering. This is not the behavior of an all-loving parent.

Perhaps there is a final reckoning where the bad will be punished and the good rewarded - but this punishment/reward idea is not good parental policy. In fact, I suspect that our images of heaven and hell represent human attempts to "explain" God's failure to step in and prevent some of God's children from hurting others. God does not step in on earth, so there "must be" a final reckoning.

Well, if I were a parent, I certainly would not find a reward/punishment system to be ideal. I guess I could punish my older child for beating up my younger child and comfort my younger child with a treat. But is it not far more important for me to look beyond the surface behavior to the deeper cause of what happened? If I find that my older child is beating up my younger child to exert power or perhaps to get my attention, then whoa, something is quite wrong and needs to be corrected. As parent, I would be responsible for correcting the deeper problem, not just punishing the surface behavior.

SO, bottom line, if we look at the reality of our world, we find that God does not prevent the suffering of God's children - whether the suffering comes through natural circumstances or at the hands of others - as I certainly believe that an all-loving parent would do. True, a good parent does not hover over his or her children and anxiously remove every possible cause of suffering, preventing the children from engaging with life on their own. But neither would a good parent allow excruciating suffering if he or she could step in to prevent it.

This image of God as all-loving parent causes people to turn away from God when undeserved suffering enters their lives. They are furious at God for not behaving as they believe a cosmic parent would. My uncle is a case in point. My uncle's only son died at age six of a childhood illness. My uncle felt absolutely betrayed by God. If God is an all-loving parent, how could God possibly allow this? My uncle turned away from God for years.

To my mind, the idea that God is an all-loving parent and we are God's children does not match reality. Let us not expect God to behave like our cosmic parent. God does not do this.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Pain in the Butt - Insight

My previous post explains how I pulled or tore my gluteal muscle and now have a pain in the butt. In that post, I also explore some of the effects this pain in the butt is having on my life.

In this post, I will take one of those effects and explore it for further insight, namely the effect that I've called A Gray Pall. I find that the pain in my butt casts a gray pall over my life and detracts from my enjoyment of normally enjoyable activities.

It is said that the way one does anything is the way one does everything. If you want to know how a person lives his or her life, look at the way he or she does any one activity. In other words, the way I am responding to this pain says a lot about my approach to life.

One way I am responding to this pain is to enjoy life less, largely because of anticipated pain. In my previous post, I described how I find a movie less enjoyable because of the anticipated pain of standing up from my seat and starting to walk after the movie.

It strikes me that this is a question of focus, and focus is a question of choice - as well as of habit formed from many past choices. Essentially, I am choosing where to focus my attention - on future pain rather than on the present movie. Of course, because I have a habit of thinking like this, it seems inevitable to me that anticipated pain would spoil enjoyment of a movie. I don't seem to have any choice about it. But the fact is that anticipated pain spoils the movie because I have chosen many times in the past to let anticipated disaster spoil otherwise pleasurable events, and I have made this a habit. Habits are repeated choices that have become automatic. The automatic quality makes the thought pattern feel inevitable rather than chosen. It is certainly possible to enjoy the movie and to deal with the pain later. It is also possible not to awfulize the pain.

In approaching life, I have often wondered, How on earth is it possible to enjoy life when something horrible can happen at any moment? There was Christopher Reeves, for instance, enjoying a horseback ride - and suddenly he takes a tumble and finds himself completely paralyzed for life. There was my sister Janet preparing for an early morning nurses' meeting - and suddenly she has an excruciating headache that turns out to be an aneurysm that has left her brain-damaged for life. There was Peggy K. taking her twenty-year-old daughter, her only child, Wendy, to have a cast removed from her leg with plans for a celebratory lunch afterwards - and suddenly the doctor emerges from the procedure room to inform Peggy that Wendy has DIED during the cast removal. There am I engaged in a childhood game - and suddenly my father descends upon me in a terrifying rage.

Okay, so I can see where my tendency to anticipate disaster comes from. And I have continued to anticipate disaster to such an extent that it interrupts my enjoyment of life. I have continued to accumulate "proofs" that life cannot be enjoyed because of impending doom - Christopher Reeves, my sister Janet, Peggy K. - and countless others.

Again, it is a question of choosing my focus. Will I focus on an enjoyable airplane ride or on an imagined possible plane crash? Will I focus on the many enjoyable aspects of my teaching position or on an imagined possible job loss? Will I focus on the joys of daily life or on an imagined possible illness or injury or financial disaster?

The plane might crash, so how can I possibly enjoy the plane ride? I might lose my job, so how can I possibly enjoy my work? I might become severely ill, or become paralyzed for life, or become brain damaged, or be sued for something, or be arrested falsely and put in prison, or lose all my money, or become homeless - so how can I possibly enjoy my life?

Because disaster COULD happen, I seem to really believe that enjoyment of life is not possible. What is interesting is that there are people who do enjoy life in the midst of each of the disasters I've mentioned. Christopher Reeves continued his acting profession while completely paralyzed. My sister Janet truly does enjoy life with her family and friends and simply works around her limitations. Peggy K. grieved for her daughter and eventually went on with her life. Roma G., whose fifteen-year-old son committed suicide, has many interests, enjoys life, and has been active in suicide prevention and in support for those whose loved ones have committed suicide.

SO I have a habit of not enjoying life because I focus on an imagined anticipated disaster that can descend at any time. And this is what I'm doing with the pain in my butt - I am not enjoying normally enjoyable activities quite so much because I am focusing on the anticipated pain in my butt.

Pain in the Butt

I have a pain in my butt. Literally. I have pulled and probably torn my gluteal muscle.

Here's how it happened. I decided to get back into yoga and purchased a ten-class pass at a yoga studio. The odd thing about this yoga studio is that even the classes called introductory have turned out to be difficult. Probably these classes are easy for twenty-year-olds but not for sixty-year-olds. That dog pose is NOT easy, and neither is that cute movement of HOPPING from right leg stretch to left leg stretch. To say nothing of the twisty warrior pose and the really awful triangle pose. I actually felt more stressed AFTER some of those "introductory" yoga classes than before!

I kept trying, though, and I did find some gentler classes. And along the way, I seriously over-stretched my muscles. Oddly, I didn't realize I was doing this. I wasn't actually in pain during the yoga poses, but I was exerting myself. I know that you're supposed to avoid exercise that is painful, but I thought that you WERE supposed to exert. Anyway, clearly, I over-exerted.

SO I woke up one morning about a week ago to find that my butt REALLY hurt. Which it still does. My butt hurts when I sit, when I stand, when I walk, and even sometimes when I lie down. It hurts most when I go from lying or sitting to standing. That initial movement of standing and beginning to walk is quite painful.

I can't take those over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as Ibuprofen, as those drugs are contraindicated with the low-dose medication I take for my heart arrythmia. And I most definitely do not want to start a round of doctor visits for this problem. It's a pulled/torn muscle, I got it by over-exercising, and it will heal eventually. Unfortunately, eventually means a couple of months.

Now I'd like to spend a little time exploring how this pain in the butt is affecting me.

A GRAY PALL. I find that this pain in the butt colors my whole life. The color is gray. Things that I would normally enjoy are not so enjoyable because the accompanying pain pulls down the enjoyment level.

For example, let's take the idea of going to a movie at the Prytania Theater, which I love to do - normally. The thought of how it's going to hurt when I stand up from my seat at the end of the movie does detract from my enjoyment of the movie. This seems odd, but it's true. You might think that the movie would distract me from the pain - and part of the time it does - but that anticipation of the coming pain of standing up is there in the background.

What must it be like for people who live with much more serious injuries and pain levels? I think of people undergoing painful physical therapy for an injury. I can now imagine that it must be hard to enjoy the normally enjoyable events of a day because you know that a painful physical therapy session awaits. That anticipation of pain is always there in the background.

And what about people whose pain is constant and high-level? I simply cannot imagine how there could be any enjoyment in life.

I do want to point out, though, that as for myself, my color is gray and not black. The pain in my butt does detract from my enjoyment of life right now, but it does not eliminate it. And we might notice that I am certainly enjoying writing about it!

PULL TO BLACKNESS. Yet I also notice that it is well to be careful not to let a certain undertow take over. It's easy to think, It sure will be nice to be dead, where there is no more pain. Even with my relatively minor pain level, that thought bubbles up. I find, though, that I can acknowledge this thought and turn away from it. I can recognize this as one of my old thought patterns, and I can fairly easily remind myself that this pain level is not overwhelming, the pain is diminishing, the injury is not serious, and the whole thing will eventually heal. I also realize that this is an overly-dramatic thought for my situation.

I can absolutely understand, though, that a person in tremendous constant pain could decide to end the pain by taking his or her life. In fact, I understand that suicide is fairly common among burn victims.

TIREDNESS. I certainly do feel tired more easily. A pain in the butt is an energy-zapper! It's hard to get very excited about an evening activity. After a day at work, I feel ready to hit the sack!

GRUMPINESS. Besides having a pain in the butt, I think I AM somewhat of a pain in the butt. It is even harder than usual to maintain patience in trying circumstances. My store of patience gets exhausted more rapidly.

SYMPATHY. I'll have to admit that I do enjoy sympathetic expressions from others - from friends and from strangers. Yesterday at one of my favorite cafés, a man at the next table noticed that I was having difficulty going from sitting to standing, and asked, "You okay, Bé?" He really was concerned, I recognized him (and probably he me) as a frequenter of that café, and he was exactly the sort of New Orleans man to use the term Bé (or Bébé, or Babe) in a simpatico (to mix languages) way.

BETTER SLEEPING. Believe it or not, this pain in the butt has helped me to sleep more comfortably with my sleep apnea machine! For the last couple of years, I've used been sleeping on my side, since sleeping on the back is not recommended if you have sleep apnea. I've also been finding the machine apparatus somewhat uncomfortable and hard to keep on.

Now, with this pain in the butt, I have to sleep on my back. (Sleeping on either side is more painful.) So, because it's not good to sleep flat on your back with sleep apnea, I've been using lots of pillows to lie on my back but at a higher angle. Lo and behold, suddenly the sleep apnea apparatus is a lot more comfortable, I fall asleep easily, and it stays on. This is a wonderful improvement!

I do have the problem, though, of the pain keeping me awake, but this is diminishing. At first, I go to sleep easily because I have a warm bath just before bed, and this soothes my butt. Eventually, though, I awake in the night to use the bathroom. By then, the soothing effect of the bath has worn off and the effort of moving from lying to standing and then walking aggravates the pain in the butt. When I get back into bed, the pain sometimes keeps me awake, though I do eventually doze off.

Well, that's my pain in the butt story! In my next post, I will explore a particular insight from this pain in the butt experience.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

God as Being Itself - Creating Heaven or Hell on Earth

As a result of reading Karen Armstrong's A Case For God, I am coming to envision God more and more, not so much as A Being, but as Being Itself. In my previous post, I examined some of the differences in envisioning God as A Being and envisioning God as Being, and I noted that envisioning God as Being has these three consequences.

  • God cannot be contained, described, or defined, because Being lies beyond the capacity of logical language.
  • Our ideas about God cannot be said to be right or wrong, because seemingly different ideas about God often point to a deeper truth.
  • We experience God, not through correct belief (which cannot be determined anyway), but through the practice of compassion and through ritual.

In this post, I will examine an additional - and very important - consequence of envisioning God as Being:

As particular beings - created in the image and likeness of God, or Being - we participate in Being Itself. This means that we have a vast capacity to create. God, or Being, will not dictate or limit how we use this vast creative capacity. Therefore, we do truly have the capacity to create Heaven or Hell on Earth.

People sometimes use horrific human creations, such as the concentration camps of Hitler's Third Reich, as evidence that there is no God. In the face of such horror, God seems to make no sense. God is said to be all-powerful and all-loving. But if God is all-powerful, then the fact that God did not prevent Hitler's cruelty shows that God is not all-loving, for an all-loving God would most certainly have used God's infinite power to prevent such suffering. If God is all-loving, then the fact that God did not prevent Hitler's cruelty shows that God is not all-powerful, for an all-powerful God would most certainly have shown God's infinite love for Hitler's victims by preventing their excruciating pain. Conclusion: There is no God.

However, if we understand God as Being Itself, I think we can see this differently.

First, I think it is important to understand that Being is vastly creative and that, as particular beings, we share in this vast capacity to create. Second, I think it is important to understand that this vastness encompasses good and evil. We can create vastly for good as well as vastly for evil - as we choose.

Now - why would God, or Being, not limit our capacity to create for evil? Evil is so destructive and causes such terrible suffering. Why wouldn't God, or Being, simply prevent this?

I believe that God, or Being, does not limit our capacity to create for evil because any limitation of our creativity would diminish our creative capacity as a whole. You cannot limit the capacity to create for evil without diminishing the capacity to create period.

Observing the way the world works, I see that God, or Being, is not about limiting but about choosing and expanding. It is clear that we have choice - people can and do choose to act for good, and people can and do choose to act for evil. It is clear that acting expands our capacity to act - the more we exercise a particular capacity, the more we expand that capacity. We expand our creative capacity by using it, and we choose in which direction to use it, for good or for evil. We simply HAVE this capacity - and God, or Being, is not going to limit us.

We really can, if we choose to, create Hell on Earth. We have the vast creative capacity to do so. Hitler and his Gestapo did. Karen Armstrong points out the similarities between our common depiction of Hell and the concentration camps of the Third Reich. People packed like sardines into railroad cars without food, water, or sanitation for their long trip to the equally-packed concentration camp. Brutal and meaningless labor under the all-seeing eyes of the wrathful guards. Extreme deprivation. Cruel and dehumanizing medical experiments. Fiery ovens igniting gas chambers of death. Rageful yelling of overseers and terrified screaming of victims. Hopelessness and despair. Human beings created a heartless machinery that would destroy all misfits (Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, the physically disabled, the mentally impaired) and support only productive and efficient Aryans.

On the other hand, we really can, if we choose to, create Heaven on Earth. We have the vast creative capacity to do so.

Now - let us consider this question: Why is it that we want God to limit our capacity to create for evil?

I think I know at least part of the answer. First, we see ourselves as separate from each other to a greater extent than is probably true. We see Hitler and his cronies making decisions and acting in ways that caused horrible suffering to others. Second - as we see the individual, Hitler, aided by his individual henchmen, hurting innocent people - we believe that an all-powerful, all-loving, and all-parental God should never allow this.

First, let us consider the question of individuality. I think we have a paradox here, and perhaps a deeper truth that underlies the paradox. On the one hand, Hitler is an individual and is responsible for his choices. So is each of Hitler's henchmen. Each of these individuals did make choices that inflicted terrible suffering on millions of other individuals. On the other hand, Hitler would never have risen to power if the wider society had not permitted it and if the collective mindset had not in some way supported Hitler's ideas. Hitler and his henchmen acted as individuals AND as members of a society that allowed them to do what they did. Both points are true. Perhaps we can say that the fact that Hitler and his henchmen could create what they did points to something that deeply needs to be healed in our collective soul.

Second, let us consider the idea of the all-parental God. Perhaps God isn't the all-encompassing parent we often envision. What if God shares Being with us and expects us to participate actively in Being? What if we are the ones to prevent the cruelty of Hitler and his henchmen? What if we are responsible for the way our creative capacity gets exercised on Earth? What if it is up to us to say and enact a resounding NO to Hitler?

We would like to see God do this or that to limit our capacity for evil, yet we ourselves have the capacity for self-limitation through our choices. We can choose to avoid and to stop evil (creating suffering) and choose to enact good (creating beauty). Observing the way the world works, it seems clear to me that God, or Being, isn't going to do what we have the capacity to do ourselves through our own participation in Being.

God as Being Itself - Overview

I have recently read Karen Armstrong's A Case For God. Karen takes us through the whole sweep of human pre-history and history and the ways humans have envisioned and related to God over the millennia. One of Karen's main points is the difference between seeing God as A BEING and seeing God as BEING ITSELF. In this post, I will examine the difference between these two ways of seeing God.


As an elementary Catholic school child, I learned in my Catechism class (as did Karen Armstrong) that God is A BEING. God is, in fact, THE SUPREME BEING. In its trademark question-and-answer format, the Baltimore Catechism states:

QUESTION: Who is God?
ANSWER: God is the Supreme Being, infinitely perfect, who made all things and keeps them in existence.

This invites us to see God as A Being (just as we are each a being), but as A Being much greater, much wiser, much more powerful than we are. We are lesser, finite, imperfect beings. God is The Supreme Being, infinitely perfect. Each of us is a being created by God. God is The Supreme Being who has always existed and who has created all other beings.

Here are two consequences of viewing God as A Being.

  • We can contain, describe, and define God: Envisioning God as A Being suggests that God is someTHING out there which (though incorporeal) can nonetheless be contained, described, and defined. God exists (as we do) and possesses characteristics (as we do). God's existence (unlike our physical existence on earth) is immortal and eternal. God's characteristics (unlike ours) are perfect and infinite: God is infinitely and perfectly knowing, infinitely and perfectly wise, infinitely and perfectly powerful, infinitely and perfectly loving, infinitely and perfectly just.
  • Our ideas about God are either right or wrong: Envisioning God as A Being also suggests that any given idea about God is either right or wrong. Since God is A Being who exists and possesses characteristics, I can be right in my ideas about This Being, and if your ideas differ from my right ideas about This Being, then your ideas about This Being are wrong. I may feel that I need to convert you to my right ideas about God, or worse, that I need to destroy you because you are a source of heresy or even blasphemy.

Karen Armstrong points out that this view of God as A Being - who can be contained, described, and defined and about whom our ideas are either right or wrong - is a relatively recent one that coincides with the flowering of modern science during the Enlightenment. Karen explains that, as science came into its own and improved people's lives so extensively, the thought patterns upon which science is based were exalted more and more until they became the only legitimate type of thought. This type of thought is called logos. Logos is logical, thrives on analysis and differentiation, insists on rational proof, sees time as linear.

Karen Armstrong explains that logos is proper for science but not for religion, where different thought patterns are needed - the thought patterns of mythos. Mythos sees deeper truth within logical contradictions, teaches wisdom through story, thrives on art, feels comfortable with paradox, sees time as spiral.

Logos sees God as A Being who can be contained,described, and defined and about whom our ideas are either right or wrong. Mythos sees God as Being Itself.


For millennia before the scientific age and the exclusive focus on logos - stretching back into the reaches of pre-history and surviving here and there through the Enlightenment and into the twenty-first century - we find people who see God as Being Itself. In other words, God is seen not as A Being but as Being. What does this mean? As it turns out, language begins to fail us when we try to talk about God who is not A Being but Being.

To see God as Being Itself is to see God as completely beyond anything in our experience. Everything in our experience is a being. We know what a being is (which may be why we feel comfortable envisioning God as The Supreme Being), but what is Being? We don't know.

As I think about this, I am not sure if we don't know what Being is because Being is not within our experience - or if we don't know what Being is because Being is so intimate a part of our world that we can't see it, or in other words, because we are so enmeshed in Being that we can't step back from Being enough to get a view of it.

Examining the previous sentence makes me see that the two possibilities - Being as not part of our experience and Being as something we are too enmeshed in to see - may really be the same thing. That is, something can be so intimate a part of our experience that we don't experience it! We can't separate from it enough to experience it consciously.

But it is also true that there are things beyond our experience. As a simple example, color is beyond the experience of a person who has always been blind. No matter what words we use to describe blue to such a blind person, we will not be able to convey the experience of blue. Lacking physical vision, the blind person does not have the capacity to experience blue. Just so, it may be that we lack the capacity to experience Being Itself.

Whether because we are too enmeshed in Being to experience it or because Being is truly beyond our capacity to experience, we simply do not have language to describe Being. Everything we know in our world is a being. Nothing we know in our world is Being. Yet, from the dawn of time, humans have recognized that Something Beyond - let us call this God - is there. The sages have recognized that we in our finite, mortal, human state do not have the capacity to contain, describe, define God. But we do have the capacity to experience God.

Karen Armstrong points out the difficulty we have with language about God. For instance, can God be said to exist? We know that a being exists, but can Being be said to exist? We sense that Being is there, but we also sense that Being does not exist in the way that a being exists. A being may exist one day and cease to exist the next day. Being seems to be that which makes possible the existence of any particular being. So Being is there, but Being is not there in the same sense in which any particular being is there, even an incorporeal being. Being is not there even in the same sense, for instance, as an angel is there.

Here is what I would say about Being. Being is the Beyond-Description in which we all participate and which is there in a sense far beyond that in which any particular being is there. And I'm going to go out on a limb here - basing this on what humans consider their highest aspirations and making the assumption that our highest aspirations over the ages tell us something about the nature of Reality - and say that Being is somehow the source of compassion, beauty, joy - all that gives our lives the deepest fulfillment.

But what is Being? We don't know.

Here are three consequences of seeing God as Being.

  • God is beyond our capacity to contain, describe, and define: I have spoken about this above.
  • None of us is "right" about God and none of us is "wrong": Different ways of envisioning God can be right. Mythos holds that deeper truth underlies apparent paradox. Buddhism, Christianity, Druidry, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Voodoo, Wicca, and all other faith traditions hold truth about Being. The Pagan religions have much to teach us about integration of truth. As far as I know, Pagans have never tried to set themselves up as holding THE truth and have never tried to "make wrong" or destroy other religions. Instead, Pagans have taken it for granted that other peoples would envision God, or Being, in other ways - ways that might add to their own understanding.
  • God is experienced in the practice of compassion and in ritual: Holding correct beliefs about God is not important and not even considered possible. Since Being cannot be contained, described, or defined, it is not possible to determine correct beliefs anyway. What is important, first, is correct practice - what we think, say, and do. Correct practice is rooted in compassion. Throughout the ages, people have recognized that the practice of compassion draws us into the Heart of Being. What is important, second, is the enactment of deep truth about Being in artistic expression - through myth, story, poetry, music, song, dance, drama, mime, visual art - and through ritual, which has been described as poetry in act. All of this allows the soul to experience Being at a level beyond the reach of logical language.

My next post will consider more of what it means to envision God as Being Itself.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Zebra - In The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

My recent posts about Moons (those things I deeply desire to bring into my life and live into) have been inspired by Garth Stein's novel The Art of Racing in the Rain. This post will explore an additional piece of the novel - the zebra.

Before getting into the zebra, I will recall that The Art of Racing in the Rain has an interesting first-person narrator - the dog Enzo, who belongs to Denny Swift, a semi-professional race car driver. Enzo understands human speech. He believes that he is living his last lifetime as a dog and that he will be ready to reincarnate in his next lifetime as a human.

At the point in the novel where the zebra appears, Enzo has been left alone in the Swift house for three days. Denny's wife, Eve, has become suddenly and seriously ill while Denny is out of town. Feeling frightened and not thinking clearly, Eve gathers her belongings and daughter, Zoe, and goes to stay at her parents' home until Denny returns. She doesn't stop to think that she has locked Enzo in the house with no one to care for him.

Enzo knows that Denny will return in three days and that he can survive on his own until then by not eating, slowing his metabolism, and drinking sparingly from the toilet bowl. But on the second evening, Enzo begins to hallucinate, and this is where the zebra appears. Although it is a long quote from pages 52-54, I want to give the full quote of what happened with the zebra.

During the second night, approximately forty hours into my solitude, I think I began to hallucinate. Licking at the legs of Zoe's high chair where I had discovered some remnants of yogurt spilled long ago, I inadvertently sparked my stomach's digestive juices to life with an unpleasant groan, and I heard a sound coming from her bedroom. When I investigated, I saw something terrible and frightening. One of her stuffed animal toys was moving about on its own.

It was the zebra. The stuffed zebra that had been sent to her by her paternal grandparents, who may have been stuffed animals themselves for all that we saw them in Seattle. I never cared for that zebra, as it was something of my rival for Zoe's affection. Frankly, I was surprised to see it in the house, since it was one of Zoe's favorites and she carted it around at length and even slept with it, wearing little grooves in its coat just below the animal's velveteen head. I found it hard to believe Eve hadn't grabbed it when she threw together their bag, but I guess she was so freaked out or in such pain that she overlooked the zebra.

The now-living zebra said nothing to me at all, but when it saw me it began a dance, a twisting, jerky ballet, which culminated with the zebra repeatedly thrusting its gelded groin into the face of an innocent Barbie doll. That made me quite angry, and I growled at the molester zebra, but it simply smiled and continued its assault, this time picking on a stuffed frog, which it mounted from behind and rode bareback, its hoof in the air like a bronco rider, yelling out, "Yee-haw! Yee-haw!"

I stalked the bastard as it abused and humiliated each of Zoe's toys with great malice. Finally, I could take no more and I moved in, teeth bared for attack, to end the brutal burlesque once and for all. But before I could get the demented zebra in my fangs, it stopped dancing and stood on its hind legs before me. then it reached down with its forelegs and tore at the seam that ran down its belly. Its own seam! It ripped the seam open until it was able to reach in and tear out its own stuffing. It continued dismantling itself, seam by seam, handful by handful, until it expelled whatever demon's blood had brought it to life and was nothing more than a pile of fabric and stuffing that undulated on the floor, beating like a heart ripped from a chest, slowly, slower, and then nothing.

Traumatized, I left Zoe's room, hoping that what I had seen was in my mind, a vision driven by the lack of glucose in my blood, but knowing, somehow, that it wasn't a vision; it was true. Something terrible had happened.

When Denny, Eve, and Zoe finally come home, Zoe goes into her room and discovers, to her horror and the horror of her parents, that all her stuffed animal toys have been torn to shreds. As Denny sees it, this is Enzo's doing. Enzo describes how Denny angrily drags him into Zoe's room and what he sees there.

He dragged me through the kitchen and down the hall, into Zoe's room where she sat, stunned, on the floor in the middle of a huge mess. Her dolls, her animals, all torn to shreds, eviscerated, a complete disaster. Total carnage. I could only assume that the evil demon zebra had reassembled itself and destroyed the other animals after I had left. I should have eliminated the zebra when I had my chance. I should have eaten it, even if it had killed me.

Denny is so angry that, in a completely uncharacteristic move, he hits Enzo hard on the side of the head. Eve cries out and runs to protect Enzo. Enzo describes his reaction to Denny's blow.

Denny stopped. He wouldn't hit her [Eve]. No matter what. Just as he wouldn't hit me. He hadn't hit me, I know, even though I could feel the pain of the blow. He had hit the demon, the evil zebra, the dark creature that came into the house and possessed the stuffed animal. Denny believed the evil demon was in me, but it wasn't. I saw it. The demon had possessed the zebra and left me at the bloody scene with no voice to defend myself - I had been framed.

So what is going on with the zebra? Here is how I see it. Enzo loves his human family - Denny and Eve and Zoe. He understands Eve's abrupt departure and the fear and pain that result in her inadvertently locking him alone in the house - in fact, Enzo's keen nose has told him for some time that Eve is seriously ill, but being a dog, he can't communicate this to the family.

Enzo is aware that the Swift family members love him, that Eve is very ill, that she didn't mean to lock him alone in the house, and that he has the means to survive until the family returns. But Enzo is not aware - he cannot acknowledge - that he is also very angry at being left, so angry that he himself tears all of Zoe's stuffed animals to shreds. He cannot acknowledge or own this behavior or the accompanying feelings. The destruction must have been caused by the evil zebra.

Later, Enzo learns that the zebra is not outside us but within us. He learns this as he watches Denny struggle with accepting an easy settlement in an important lawsuit. Exhausted, Denny is about to sign the easy settlement, when Enzo notices that Denny's pen has a zebra on it! Enzo grabs Denny's document in his mouth, dives through the window with it, and finally pees on it - all to show Denny how important it is not to accept an easy settlement but to go for the Moon, since Denny knows that he is in the right.

At this point, Enzo understands that the zebra is within. On page 264, Enzo says: "The zebra is the worst part of us when we are face-to-face with our worst times."

I like this: The zebra is the worst part of us when we are face-to-face with our worst times.

Thus, I can see this worst part both as myself and as the zebra. I can acknowledge this worst part as part of me: I feel angry, vengeful, resentful - I would relish doing something mean and hateful. I can also see this worst part as the zebra. This allows me to put my anger outside myself where I can look at my anger more objectively, where I need not inhabit my anger, where I can choose to inhabit compassion instead. The zebra helps me to see anger as part of me, not as me. Even if I feel consumed by anger, I am not my anger. The anger is part of me, yes, but I do not need to inhabit it. I can say, "Ah, that's the zebra. I do not need to be the zebra. I can be compassion instead."

To acknowledge one's feelings and to be able to separate oneself from them is very helpful. It allows one to say, "I feel angry, and I do not need to act from anger." The anger is within me, and I do not need to act it out. I acknowledge the zebra within, and I choose not to be the zebra.

I am thinking of the zebra as related to anger (and often it is), but it can also be related to giving up, as Denny was about to do with the lawsuit, when I should really stand up for myself. In that case, I need to have compassion for myself and to stand firm without acting vengefully.

Martha Beck in Steering by Starlight goes through a similar process with unwarranted fear. She personifies her fear as a lizard. Whenever fear tries to stop her from going for the Moon, she recognizes that this is the lizard, she speaks kindly to the lizard, and then she turns her attention to the Moon. When I read Steering by Starlight, I decided to name my lizard Jerome and to feed Jerome some blueberries and speak kindly to him when he became agitated and fearful. (Based on my recent posts about my Moons and my fears, I can tell that I need to remember Jerome!)

As for the zebra, I think I shall name my zebra Cassidy, speak firmly and kindly to calm him, feed him some hay (do zebras enjoy hay?), and turn my attention to compassion - compassion both for myself and for others.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Soul Work - Deeper Moons Focused on Self

In a previous post, I identified deeper Moons focused on God, others, and self. By Moons, I mean things that I deeply want to bring into my life and live into. This post will explore deeper Moons - Moons that involve important soul work - focused on self.

The Moons focusing on self are SHOW, BE, and RELAX. Each involves a deeply ingrained attitude toward life, an attitude that I imbibed in the family where I grew up, along with needed family soul healing. Here they are:

  • SHOW: To heal secretiveness by being honest in appropriate ways, especially in taking responsibility for my actions and feelings
  • BE: To heal excessive busyness by spending time being rather than constantly doing
  • RELAX: To heal excessive anger by acting from a place of calm centeredness


I've written about this in previous posts, especially my Hospital Experience posts of June 2010, where I describe growing up in a family with lots of secrets, the main secrets being that my mother was an alcoholic and that my father was a rage-aholic. We did not discuss this, inside or outside the family.

In addition, unacceptable feelings were not discussed as I was growing up. Unacceptable feelings were kept secret. I see this suppression of feelings as the result of the Catholic Church's teachings, especially as modeled by my mother. I also see this suppression of feelings as a major cause of my mother's need to drink.

Here is how I believe it worked. The Catholic Church lays out norms for the ideal Christian woman. Women, pontificates the Catholic Church, find their fulfillment in sacrificial self-giving. A true woman sacrifices herself unceasingly for the benefit of her husband and family. It is in this constant self-sacrifice that a woman finds her greatest happiness.

Can you imagine the conflict for a Catholic woman who believes this? This woman gives herself sacrificially for her husband and family. Her needs do not matter - it only matters that she give herself for her family's needs and benefit. So she does. She gives and gives and gives and gives and gives and gives and gives and gives - but she is not happy. She is exhausted and depleted. She knows that a real woman finds her greatest happiness and fulfillment in sacrificial self-giving, and she knows that she is constantly giving herself sacrificially - so why isn't she happy? It must be that something is wrong with her - that she has a shameful defect that makes her less than a real woman. Since this is shameful, she decides to hide her unhappiness and to do her best to pretend to be happy. After all, the other Catholic wives and mothers she knows appear to be happy - or at least not as utterly depleted as she feels. There is no one she can talk to about this, because admitting her feelings would be to admit something deeply shameful. Her feelings must be kept secret. I believe that this is a description of my mother. I believe that my mother's drinking was largely an attempt to escape from this painful conflict.

Added to this conflict, in the case of my mother, was a critical and rageful husband and six needy and demanding children, all born within one decade - the 1950s. And of course, the Catholic Church forbids divorce and forbids birth control. So my mother was trapped in her marriage and trapped into having "as many children as God sends us" and trapped by the need to be happy in all her sacrificial self-giving. And the fact that she felt trapped - that her true feelings were ones of rage at never getting her own needs met - had to be kept secret.

SO - I learned that unacceptable feelings were secrets. I learned that parental failings (my mother's drinking and my father's rages) were secrets.

It also strikes me that my reluctance to give and to serve, as described in my previous post, may very well have to do with seeing the devastating effect of my mother's extreme giving and serving. Of course, the corrective to extreme giving and serving is not refusal to give and serve but balanced giving and serving, that is, giving and serving balanced with self-care.

My Show Moons have to do with healing the harmful secretiveness that I learned in my family by showing the truth.

  • Show the truth to myself about my thoughts and feelings.
  • Show responsibility for myself - my thoughts and feelings and actions.
  • Show the truth about myself to others in appropriate ways. The words "in appropriate ways" are important when it comes to others, as there are thoughts and feelings that should not be shared with everyone.

This blog is a forum for me to practice all three aspects of that honesty.

  1. Be honest with myself: The act of writing brings insights about myself to my awareness. It clarifies my thoughts and feelings and makes them real to me. This helps me to be honest with myself.
  2. Take responsibility for myself: Writing also places my thoughts and feelings outside myself - on a page or a screen in black and white - where I can consider them more objectively. This helps me to take responsibility for my thoughts and feelings and actions.
  3. Be appropriately honest with others: Writing publicly, as in a blog, allows me to be honest with others. I believe that honest writing encourages others: when I read someone else's honest writing, I am often led to my own truth - whether I see myself in the writer's words or whether I see my own truth as very different from the writer's.


My father was excessively busy. He was always "spinning," as he put it. He always had somewhere to go, something to do, someone to see. His body never seemed to rest - if nothing else, he was always tapping his fingers.

With my father, everything was a chore - even "fun," which wasn't really fun because it was a chore. We had to work to set up the necessary equipment to have fun, and then we had to work to take it down afterwards. And because my father was a rage-aholic, he often raged at us kids about how incompetent we were in loading the car for a trip to the playground, or in cleaning the plastic swimming pool in the backyard, or in clearing up after a bar-be-cue.

My father liked it best when he and everyone in the family was busy, and he tended to make any busyness unpleasant with criticisms of our work - criticisms often expressed ragefully.

In my family, I learned that it was important to do (and to do busily), not to be.

I find it difficult to take time to be, although it feels very good when I do. I also sense that this is a really, really important area of soul work - perhaps the most important. What I do - my enjoying, thanking, giving, loving, serving, showing, and relaxing - need to come from being, from the still centered place within.

I find myself feeling agitated when I think of all the things I want to incorporate into my life. How will I find time to exercise (getting in aerobics, strength training, and stretching), to write, to draw, to read, to study the Bardic materials, to teach and interact with my students, to spend time with friends, to go to concerts and plays and movies and operas, to attend Lyceum events, not to mention eating and sleeping - and also to get in time for just being.

Well, okay, how can I make time for just being? Here are some things that come to mind.

  • Yoga: Attend yoga class two (or more) times a week. It is easy to BE in community with other people who have set aside this special time for just being.
  • Centering Prayer: Practice centering prayer twice daily. This could be difficult to keep up, since this would be a solitary practice. Would I stick with this?
  • Angel Day; Moments of Grace: Pause for moments of grace throughout the day, especially before each activity. Actually, this could be done by having Angel Days. An Angel Day is a day spent with your angel. You pause at certain moments throughout the day to connect with your angel and with God, perhaps by expressing gratitude, or by praying for someone or something, or by simply being still and receptive to God.

I'll stop with these ideas. Angel Days really attract me because I have the help of my angel - I'm not alone with my practice of being.


My father was a very angry person. I would say that anger was his default emotion, and he often seemed to lose control of how to change the default and choose a different emotion and different behavior. When something pushed his trigger, anger would erupt. You could count on it. For someone who loved the word "control" - as in the expression "Is everything under control?" - my father certainly did not have his anger under control at all. On the contrary, his anger controlled him.

I find that I, too, am prone to anger. I'm speaking of getting angry at the inevitable irritations of life, where anger serves no purpose. This, too, is an important area of soul work. It strikes me that a good way to proceed is to consciously use irritating situations as opportunities to change the default and choose a different emotion and different behavior - something my father simply could not or would not do. When stuck in traffic, one might relax and sing, for instance.

So here is the Relax Moon.

  • Use situations that push the anger trigger as opportunities to relax and choose different behavior.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Soul Work - Deeper Moons Focused on Others

In a previous post, I identified deeper Moons focused on God, others, and self. By Moons, I mean things that I deeply want to bring into my life and live into. This post will explore deeper Moons - Moons that involve important soul work - focused on others. Just as with the Moons focused on God, there will be an overlap. Some of the goals focused on others wind up also focusing on self.

The Moons focusing on others are GIVE, LOVE, and SERVE. Each involves a deeply ingrained attitude toward life, an attitude that I imbibed in the family where I grew up, along with needed family soul healing. Here they are:

  • GIVE: Heal a scarcity mentality, leading to hoarding, by developing an abundance mentality, leading to generosity
  • LOVE: Heal a judgmental attitude by developing compassion
  • SERVE: Heal an avoidance of service by serving in appropriate ways


I grew up with a scarcity mentality. I learned to hoard rather than to give. If I gave something, that meant more for someone else and less for me. Also, if I gave something, I might want or need it later, and then I wouldn't have it because I had given it away. In fact, the word "away" describes my feelings about giving. When I gave something, I gave it away, meaning that whatever I gave was henceforth away from me, no longer with me.

In addition, my parents didn't like to share things. They preferred to have things for their own exclusive use. When things are shared, other people don't take care of things, whereas when you have your own items, you can be assured that they will be well maintained because you are the one in charge of maintaining your own possessions. In other words, if you want your things taken care of properly, have your own things, don't share them, and take care of them yourself.

In spite of this, my parents were generous with close friends and family members. For example, my father gave financial help to his first cousin Helen in the later years of her life, and he helped his first cousin Ed considerably when Ed's professional office burned down.
(Because my father was an only child, he was very close to his first cousins.) My father and mother cared for my paternal grandmother at home in her last illness and made sure that she died at home in her own bed as she wished. My father was also a generous alumnus of his university, giving both time and money, because the university had given him a scholarship that had allowed him to be a first-generation university graduate, obtain a professional degree, and move out of the working class into a more lucrative and satisfying profession.

My father, though, did not like to accept favors. He seemed to operate within a system where he and his acquaintances traded favors. If someone did you a favor, you owed him a favor - and this was not so good because you never knew when that person might decide to cash in his favor. He might ask you to do something inconvenient at an inconvenient time - and you would be obliged to do it because you "owed him a favor." Favors couldn't be entirely avoided, but one did want to owe as few favors as possible.

As for me, I am not a naturally generous person. Giving, for me, involves conflicting fears. Giving money (beyond a "safe" amount that I won't miss) involves my fear of losing all my money or of wanting or needing that money later and not having it. Lending my belongings involves my fear that I won't get them back and that I might need them. Giving time involves my fear of losing the time I want and need for my own solitary pursuits, which is the way an introvert replenishes her energy. Giving space, such as having a house guest or sharing an office, involves my fear of not having the time I need to myself and not being able to concentrate on my projects because of the presence of someone else. In all these instances, I fear that I won't have what I need when I need it, so I tend to guard my money, my belongings, my space, and my time.

On the other hand - and here's the conflict - I fear being selfish and I fear the disapproval of others for my selfishness. In other words, I "should" be generous but I don't want to be - yet I also don't want to be seen as ungenerous. So what do I do? Do I give with secret resentment - so as to appear generous? Do I withhold giving, feeling guilty within myself, making excuses, trying to hide from others the fact that I'm not giving - so as to preserve my money, belongings, space, time?

I guess another way to put this conflict is like this: I feel that I am supposed to want to give, but in fact I don't want to. What I want - to keep my money, my belongings, my space, my time for myself - conflicts with what I believe to be society's (and God's) expectations of me. Society's (and God's) expectations define what a good person is: I should be generous because a good person is generous. The fact that I don't want to give means that I am bad, that my desires are warped, that I have a shameful innate defect at my core. I need to keep this shameful core defect (of which my lack of generosity is a proof) hidden from others.

Goodness! It seems that a reasonable solution here is to quit the pretense: to simply decide what I will and will not give and to let myself be comfortable with it. Besides, it's not really the case that I never want to give. There are quite a few situations in which I feel delighted to give - to give money, belongings, space, or time. The times when I don't want to give need to be okay, or at least not horribly shameful. It is also okay to admit that I am still growing in my capacity to be generous.

There are times when I don't want to give, and I really do feel okay about it. At those times, I find that I can say no in a polite but clear way.

There are times when my soul wants to give but my superficial grasping self does not. I have started to be able to recognize these times and to go with my soul. In fact, I think that there is a very important truth here. God is generous. The universe is generous. Generosity is part of the bedrock of Reality, as are compassion, beauty, and joy. Perhaps that is why I feel that I "should" be generous and that lack of generosity is somehow off-balance - it is because generosity aligns us with God. (Another reason is that society wants us to be generous so as to support its causes, and society is not above using guilt to get contributions. The same can be said of churches and universities and non-profit organizations.) Back to God, though - it is true, I believe, that growing in generosity draws us closer to God, to Reality, to the heart of the universe. So, built into my very nature, is the sense that it is good to be generous. There is nothing shameful, though, in admitting honestly that generosity is an area of growth for me and that, at this point in my growth, I feel able to stretch myself this far in giving but not beyond. In other words, I can say, "In response to your request for x, I am not able to give that full amount, but I will give y."

There are times when I have given away too much in order to appear generous. The best example of this happened when I was five years old. I had a wonderful friend in the form of a stuffed animal - a bear/rabbit (he was really a rabbit but I thought of him as a bear) named Blue Ribbon. I had heard about a collection of toys for needy children, and in a misbegotten fit of super-generosity, I gave Ribbon to this cause. This allowed me to feel good and generous, but these feelings did not last. It wasn't long before I realized how much I had given away - I had given away my dear friend, my play companion. I missed Ribbon terribly, but there was no way to get Ribbon back. I know that I gave Ribbon away just to have the good feeling of being generous. This was wrong - I could see immediately that I had given away too much and for a very wrong reason. There are things that should not be given away.

There is also such a thing as irresponsible giving. Giving away so much that one limits one's ability to care for oneself and for those who are one's responsibility. Giving without regard to our created reality, where society is not likely to treat us kindly if we do run out of money. Deciding that God will take care of me if I give away absolutely everything.

Unfortunately, irresponsible giving has been encouraged for women by the Catholic Church and also by society at large, particularly within marriage. Mary Catherine Bateson, in Composing a Life, puts it like this: Women are taught to sacrifice themselves for the sake of the marriage; men are taught that the marriage exists to support them. Women have been taught that their fulfillment as women is to be found in giving themselves sacrificially to serve their husband's and children's needs. This has caused women to sacrifice themselves constantly for their family, all the while castigating themselves for not feeling fulfilled as a real woman should. Since they aren't exercising self-care but only giving and giving and giving, they feel depleted.

I will move now to what Erich Fromm says about giving in The Art of Loving. Erich Fromm distinguishes three types of givers. One type of giver sees giving as depletion: Whenever I give, I deplete my own store; to give means to have less. Another type of giver sees giving as marketing: Whenever I give, I aim to get something of like value in return. A third type of giver sees giving as an indication of abundance: I give because my life is abundant; giving shows that my life is rich and full. It is not necessary to be wealthy to be this third type of giver; some givers of this type are actually poor in society's eyes.

There are times when I have wanted to give, when I have given, and when I have indeed felt abundant and rich.

So - what is my Giving Moon? Initially, I said that I desire to heal a scarcity mentality that leads to hoarding by developing an abundance mentality that leads to generosity. What does it look like to give generously? Giving generously comes from love. Hoarding comes from fear as does giving super-generously or irresponsibly.

Perhaps, at rock bottom, the Moons are about moving from Fear into Love. Love encompasses myself and others - otherwise, it is not love but something else, something out of balance. To favor myself at the expense of others is out of balance and involves fear of not having enough for me. To favor others at the expense of myself is also out of balance and involves fear of being judged selfish. A question to grapple with is one of balance: how much to spend on my own pleasure in a world with severe needs and how much to give while still exercising responsible self-care. The answer is not out there - the answer is within. So this also involves ceasing to look outside myself for the answer but seeking my own God-wisdom within. This doesn't preclude asking friends for help with these questions; friends can help to spot areas of imbalance in my thinking.

Here are some Moons about Giving that come to mind:

  • To reach and maintain a proper weight, a well-toned and agile body, and a high energy level through healthy habits of eating and exercise. (This is a Giving Moon because self-care enables one to give effectively.)
  • To grow into a person who gives from the desire to share joyfully the abundance of a rich and full life.
  • To look to my God-wisdom within to know where, when, and how much to give.


I have posted quite a bit about this lately, for example, in my Hospital Experience posts of June 2010. I will simply state my Moon.

  • To grow in compassion for myself and others.

Growing in compassion does not mean eliminating consequences for wrong behavior or acting irresponsibly from a misguided sense of love. For example, a dangerous convicted murderer does need to be kept firmly behind bars. Compassion can help us to understand how, given his circumstances, he did what he did, and compassion will lead us to treat him humanely - but compassion will not let him back out on the streets where he will pose a danger to others.


Service, of course, relates to giving - particularly in action. Service is not giving money or belongings or even space - but giving time and effort and action. Giving, though, implies something above and beyond what is called for - while service is part of what one does because one is part of a community.

At a university, faculty members do well to serve their department, the university, their profession, and the wider community. For example, a history professor might serve on the committee to hire a new faculty member (reading numerous resumes, interviewing applicants by telephone, coordinating campus visits for the top candidates), might serve on the faculty senate of the university, might edit a professional journal, and might give a series of presentations at the public library on a local topic of historical interest.

There are ways to serve one's neighborhood, one's city or town, one's nation, and our world. Military service, for example, used to be the norm for all young men. If one is a member of a faith community, it is well to serve the faith community in some way. In a church, one might serve by teaching a Sunday school class, preparing the altar for the Eucharist, greeting people on Sunday morning, setting up and taking down for a church event, acting as a host for church meals. If one is a member of a club, it is well to serve the club in some way.

In other words, one serves because one is part of a community and because one's service is needed for the community to function smoothly.

There have been communities and time periods when I have done quite a bit of service and enjoyed it. This was the case in the 1990s - for my local professional organization, for example, and for the church I belonged to at the time. Also, between 2006 and 2009, I did a certain amount of service for my university department and some professional service for the wider community.

Yet it is also true that I sometimes tend to guard my free time closely and to avoid certain types of service. In these situations, I let others carry the responsibility for the smooth functioning of the community. I benefit without contributing - or without contributing very much.

For some years now, I have faced a struggle with areas of service that I feel are important, that I feel I should be involved in, and yet that I do avoid. I avoid them because they have the potential to be inconvenient and to interfere with my free time and with plans I've made. My choice has been to avoid these areas of service, to feel guilty about this avoidance, and to try to keep others unaware of my avoidance. The other choice, it seems to me, is to engage in these areas of service and to feel constantly anxious about when I might be called on inconveniently in ways that interrupt my free time and my plans. So I can feel guilty but have my freedom, or I can feel anxious but have the approval of others. I've decided to go with guilty but free. There must be another way of approaching this, but I don't see it.

Sometimes it may be that we need to do something because it is right, not because we enjoy it. And yet I think that there is a certain amount of enjoyment simply in the feeling of rightness about what we're doing, even if the action itself isn't very enjoyable. In other words, the motivation or the reason for the action - the greater purpose - provides some enjoyment.

Doing something so as not to be judged selfish is simply not a motivation that will provide any enjoyment at all. Unfortunately, that would be my motivation for certain kinds of service that I currently avoid. I would like to get to the point where the rightness of this service would provide my motivation and at least some degree of enjoyment (the point where I may not enjoy the action but I would at least enjoy the action's rightness), but I am not there and I don't see how to get there. I am more at the point of dreading the loss of freedom that this particular service could entail, of dreading not having control over when I might be called upon, of dreading the possibility of having to cancel eagerly anticipated plans. The dread is strong enough for me to avoid the service, even though I feel guilty about avoiding it.

This is as far as I can get with this situation right now. So here is how I will state my Service Moons.

  • To serve in ways that give me joy, whether the joy comes from the action itself or from the rightness of the action.
  • To resolve my stalemate about the areas where I currently feel that I should be serving but am not by accepting my non-service without guilt or by serving with joy.