My divorce decree arrived in the mail recently – March 27th actually (the day before my birthday!). I had included a stamped self-addressed envelope with the last small stack of documents which I had dutifully delivered to the courthouse. So the judge or her assistant merely folded the signed decree and slipped it into the envelope; and that was that.
Sterile, this divorce process was for me. Pedantic, inexpensive ($292), and cut and dried. Final. And, I would add — spiritual.
I can say, at this point, that I am as happy and as genuinely pleased with my life as I can imagine being. So much for which I am grateful. Healthy in body, mind, soul, and bank account. Good friends to beat the band, a job as counselor and spiritual director that holds for me so much meaning, and a future that seems full of possibilities. It does, indeed, feel as if I am on an incredible journey.
Not that the ending of my marriage wasn’t devastating. I will tell no lies about that. It was my third marriage, in fact. And now, a third divorce. At times in the past year, the shame I felt about this fact of my life was nearly immobilizing. Without friends to hold me up, friends who reminded me of my goodness and worth, and friends that helped me with the work of healing, I am sure I would not be where I am today.
I hear from time to time what seems to be a stigma about multiple marriages and divorces. I’m in a meeting or at a conference or watching a TV program, and someone is referred to as having been married several times — as if this is something unacceptable. And yet, there are many of us in this category with one, two, three, or more marriages. We keep trying; but hopefully we keep learning as well.
I owe, in part, my healing during this past year to an App on my iphone: Insight Timer. I found it the day after my wife left me, and I used it’s library of Guided Meditations and it’s timer for silent meditations every day for the next year. I began my morning with some meditation on acceptance, self-compassion, surrender, or forgiveness – whether I felt like it or not. This was medicine for my soul. It was literally the only thing that enabled me to go back out into the world each day. And slowly, slowly, slowly, I felt the healing take root.
I haven’t tracked the statistics yet, but I also don’t feel the need to do so. I know, instinctively, that there are many of us who suffer the stigma of divorce. Some of the stigma, of course, is of our own making. But I know this. We are all trying to do the best we know in order to have healthy relationships. Certainly, if we knew more, had better insight, more understanding, more skill…, more of everything, we’d be better at this notion of marital equality, romance, and respect. I’m still learning, and I’m still growing, and I will continue to do so, I pray, as long as God gives me life and breath, and yes, love.
Growing up is one thing. Growing “down” is quite another thing altogether.
When we are growing up, we need certain things: food, of course; shelter; warmth, touch, and love for a start. Caring relationships matter greatly. Gradually though, we need to venture out, becoming mobile and slightly independent. When we get hurt along the way — we trip or fall or skin a knee — we need a mixture of assistance from others as well as ample opportunities to figure things out ourselves. Unless we struggle some, we never grow to our full potential.
Moving on along the growth trajectory, education comes into play — quite early actually. The infant brain is constantly learning about his or her environment: what pleases, what meets with disapproval, learning words and sentences, communicating our wants and needs and emotions, mastering our limited but ever expanding worlds. It’s an exciting thing to behold!
And so it goes through the elementary school years, the teenage years, and beyond. The more we learn and the more we grow in the process, the more new challenges we take on, our growth is unlimited. Even in the latter years of life, we are growing and learning until the day that we die, actually.
But growing up is only half the story of our lives. It’s the “growing down” part that really makes life worth living. The roots that we sink into the soil of life are what nurture the limbs and the leaves above. Show me someone who is living life well, and I will show you someone who has spent ample amounts of time in the underground of life — the place where the soul, if you will, grows. They have journeyed into their own unconscious selves, or they have journeyed through times of acute suffering and loss, or they have both found love and lost love; and yet, they have come through these times all the wiser.
I have learned much in my lifetime in the usual places of learning — school, achieving academic degrees, succeeding at various jobs along the way, traveling, watching TV and movies, reading books, and enjoying interacting with friends and others. But my roots have largely grown deeper when life has taken unexpected and often painful turns that I never saw coming. Or when I have dared to look into my own unconscious, through dreamwork, for example. Our dreams often hold within their mysterious images the stuff of growing deeper and wiser. And this takes some courage at times.
Alcoholics Anonymous has made famous the term “hitting bottom.” It’s that time in a person’s journey when they arrive at the end of their rope. Their lives have literally become “root-less.” All of their own efforts at negotiating life’s challenges have failed, and they find themselves up against a dead end. It is, in that moment, the WORST day of their lives — and it is also the BEST day of their lives. It is the day when that man or woman decides to go about the task of growing deeper roots: in their relationship with God, developing compassion for others, and building their lives on becoming as self-aware as possible. I have friends who are recovering addicts, and they are some of the deepest people I know — they have failed big time! But they also have mighty big and deep souls that bring light and life to everyone they encounter.
So, I say, in this infancy period of 2017 — bring me plenty of the good things of life! Bring me light and love, good food, good friends, and money sufficient to my needs. But also, bring on the challenges — even bring on the pain and sorrow — for these are the things that serve as rich compost for the soul. And bring on the experiences that deepen my connection with others who are growing and hurting and succeeding in this thing we call life. For it is only as we are growing downward that we can effectively reach for the sun and the stars.
A kindly looking old guy, he seems. Who wouldn’t want someone like him in their corner? A jolly old fellow who promises that we can have whatever we want — just for being good!
But there is no Santa, right. No danger in this blog of a child reading such heresy, I know. But even children have their ways of dealing with literal truth. One year, when my 10 year old daughter and 5 year old son approached me a few days before Christmas, they looked me right in the eye and insisted that I immediately tell them the truth: “Dad, is there really a Santa?” I’m not sure what came over me, but I simply said as gently as possible, “No. There is NO Santa Claus.” To which they quickly corrected me: “NUH UHHH!!!” Their belief stayed intact in the face of “the truth.”
It would, indeed, be nice if there really was a Santa Claus. I confess it – I want what I want when I want it. And in general, I’m pretty good, though far from perfect. I’d need a Santa who was willing to look the other way on occasion.
But I wouldn’t grow if I got want I wanted. I wouldn’t learn the myriad of life lessons that come from the opposite human experience — not getting what I want! I won’t stop wanting nice gifts, and I’ll always enjoy the heartfelt experience of giving gifts that others want. It’s just that Santa can only help us feel good, feel blessed, while “being Santa” for others can do the same for them.
It’s a crucial step in the direction of emotional and spiritual maturity when we can embrace our experiences of not getting what we want: not getting the “good news” for which we had hoped at a dreaded visit to see the doctor; not getting the relationship or marriage we had wanted; not getting the Christmas bonus that maybe our friends are getting; or not getting our way in a contentious national election. While these experiences cause us heaps of insecurity, disturbing fears, and real life suffering and pain, they are also the stuff out of which resilience is made.
A very technical definition of resilience is “the ability of a substance or an object to spring back into shape; elasticity.” If you have had this experience — of springing back into shape after receiving a blow — you know how miraculous it can feel. But it’s no miracle really. It’s a set of skills: calling friends when something awful happens and hearing their words of comfort and support; resisting the urge to withdraw into a tight little cocoon when life has dealt you a cruel knock; reaching out to others who need a hand when you feel you have little left to give; asking your God or Higher Power to show you the light in your darkest hour; talking with a counselor or pastor; or just taking the only next step you can see when you are weary and feel like the journey to whatever is next is beyond your imagination.
These are the things that help us grow through loss and not getting what we want. I will still give Santa my list of things I want next year. But I will continue to give thanks for the things I don’t want — the things that have forced me to look deep inside and to look outward to my friends and others so that I can find the character that shapes my soul and that gives me hope, vision, and purpose. And to the things from above that I often forget about. And while honoring the spirit of Santa, I am more than happy to celebrate the truth that really…, there is no Santa.
Peace and grace to you and yours in 2017!
When it comes to sex and politics, it seems that these days the two topics make — well, yes — strange bedfellows. There is lots of talk about videotape, indiscretions, shame, hacked emails, and loud accusations. All of this makes for great entertainment, but it doesn’t seem to really enlighten us much. Just lots of noise, blame, and shouting.
We’re trying to choose a President for our country at this particular juncture in history, and yet many feel very disenfranchised by both Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton. Donald is accused by his detractors of being a bigot and a philanderer; while Hilary is accused of being a liar. Why would we want either to be a leader of the United States?
I wonder, though, about what we’re not talking about. In pointing the finger at this candidate or that one, we know that psychologically, we’re also unconsciously pointing the finger at ourselves: our own bigotry, our own lying, our own sexual compulsivity, and our own difficulties with speaking and living with a sense of moral integrity. Do we not all struggle with these issues in one way or another?
What if, instead of shouting and blaming and moralizing, Donald and Hilary offered real moral and spiritual leadership by modeling what it is like to speak with a sense of vulnerability about sex and about the abuse of power? What if Donald’s wife and daughter were allowed to speak frankly about their own experiences of being objectified by men, or even their experiences of being assaulted? Statistically, there is a 3 in 5 chance that they have had that horrific experience. Beauty and femininity often come packaged together at a considerable price — partly, the price of verbal and physical attacks that leave deep and lasting emotional scars.
What if Hilary could speak openly about how she, as a woman, a daughter, and a wife, has experienced objectification and out and out emotional damage in her life and work — even in her own family? She could lead all women and men in her constituency by modeling openness and honesty rather than simply scapegoating Donald Trump. Hilary could earn more respect by resisting the temptation of making more of a spectacle of the Trump videotapes than the media has already done so — and done so, ravenously and unfairly.
And can you imagine what it would be like if Donald Trump and Bill Clinton would join forces in talking with men about what is inappropriate “locker room talk,” about the dangers of men behaving unconsciously. Can you imagine how this would serve women and men well in their confronting things like the reality of date rape on college campuses? I think Trump and Clinton should create, immediately, a non-profit foundation devoted to educating young boys and grown men about the real and present dangers involved in objectification and sexual acting out to our daughters, sisters, and wives or partners!
Carl Jung pointed to the dangers and destructiveness of psychological projection, and he worried deeply about the potential ruin of civilization unless we each do our part in “reclaiming our projections.” I think Jung was prescient of our current political and cultural environment. We need leaders who refuse to polarize and attack, but who can lead us in building bridges between people of widely different temperament and beliefs. Our country is founded on the principal of government “of, by, and for” ALL the people — not just the ones with whom we agree, nor the ones who fit our image of moral superiority and purity.
Pray then, for sanity and enlightened wisdom in this crucial moment in our political history. Pray for moral courage to speak honestly, passionately, and deeply; but, moreso, to speak with the goal of unifying us. No one is pure or perfect — we all have personal and private things about which we could feel some degree of shame. So let’s pray for finding common ground that heals our great divides, rather than building more isolated islands that keep us from working together to solve our problems.
This continuing education experience would be a dream come true to attend. I plan to sign-up for it within the next week or two; and I’d love to have some fellow travelers with whom to go on this pilgrimmage. Just click on the link above to see all the great plans for this itinerary and conference. If I get 6 others to go along, I’m providing a $300 discount off of the registration fee to one fellow-traveler by way of a drawing.
But what about pregnancy dreams? Lots of people have them. So what are they about?
A woman came into my consulting room one day for her regular session , and soon into the hour, she shared a dream about being pregnant. Neither one of us had any idea about the meaning of this dream. So I suggested to her that she go home and mark her calendar 9 months from the date of her dream, so that she could notice what might have “come to birth.”
We continued to work together during the ensuing weeks and months. Then, one day, I noticed something different about her. She talked in that session about a number of things that were on her mind – some celebrations, some disappointments, some sadness and hurt and feelings of rejection. But what impressed me the most, for the first time really, was a kind of resiliency and self-confidence coming from her that sounded surprisingly new and solid — well-formed, developed. Over several years of working together, we had often discussed her lack of such solidity when it came to life’s myriad of ups and downs, the times of loneliness, and her occasional experiences of disappointment and loss. She had worked hard to know how to cope, but her childhood years of being ridiculed and emotionally neglected had not given her the inner, psychic muscles she needed to deal with such things very well.
When she mentioned, in passing, that it had been 9 months since her dream of pregnancy, it all suddenly made sense. In the midst of her struggles and her efforts to cope and change, an inner wisdom had been growing in her, mysteriously and unseen. Her psyche knew that this had begun to happen – that’s what her dream had been about! But neither she nor I could have known that at the time that she first shared her dream 9 months before.
So, we shared together in this moment of wonder and appreciation for this miracle of “inner birth” and new life — a new creation. A newfound, felt sense of inner strength had been discovered – but maybe, more accurately, had been received and nurtured to fruition. Gone, for now, was the negative thinking, guilt, and shame. In it’s place, life! Life, with both joy and sadness, happiness and sorrow. Life in its fullness.
Not all dreamwork feels this miraculous, certainly. But at the heart of the dream is the soul yearning to grow and to be alive.