Sunday, September 23, 2012

Awareness...The Mirror of the Other

Awareness...my last post was written about ways I connect awareness and spirituality. I've continued to think about awareness. When I first started feeling hurt and frustrated at Church, and when I first decided to step back from attending (there is a three year span between the beginning of the frustration and choosing inactivity), this was really the main issue...awareness of how certain perspectives & world views were affecting my life, and my ability to love.

When I decided to step back, it was simply this...that I felt I needed space from a place where certain perspectives were encouraged. For the three difficult years prior to leaving, I would go to work during the week, and I would see the pain & suffering of good, loving individuals. Then I would go to Church and I would feel triggered into pain & anger as I heard others share (as I so often had before) the rigid beliefs that were the exact beliefs that were so harmful to those clients I was getting to know. I also realized as I began to explore my own areas of suffering, that many of the beliefs that were causing me so much unnecessary pain & harm, were reinforced at Church. I don't blame the Church...I'm the one that chose to internalize these beliefs in the ways I did. It just felt so good for my ego to be "right." it felt so good to have all the answers(or at least more than the rest of the world), to believe that I knew more than others, that I was chosen. It felt good, and it felt safe.

Some specific examples of how this all happened for me:

It started with my clients. I had just become a Marriage & Family Therapist. I was doing a lot of work at the time with pornography addiction, issues around homosexuality, depression, anxiety, and past traumas. Now, it may help to really imagine this to better understand what this part was like for me...people are coming in to see you. They are smart, usually well educated people, often from religious homes, and usually loving families. You are young, late twenties. You've been to grad school, you've had your own life experiences, but other than that...what do you know? You don't understand everything. Some of the people coming to see you are much older, some not, but they are all seeking the same thing. Peace, joy, a sense of connection with their loved ones, with themselves, with God. Some have been through obvious abuse, stressors and traumas, some seem to have had a perfectly easy life. Yet there is pain, suffering, depression, addictions. Bishops would send people from their congregations that they didn't know how to assist. Growing up how did I manage things that were problematic? I prayed, read scriptures, talked with friends (except for those few things that were really shameful that I didn't want to share with anyone), talked with Bishops. If those things didn't work, I compartmentalized, felt guilty, felt I just needed to keep trying harder, or I'd bury it...or distract myself with perfectionism, socializing or over-achieving.

I was never much of a diagnostician in my therapy work. It may help to organize symptoms that people experience, but diagnoses don't do much to explain why someone is where they are with a particular issue, and therefore how to change. For example, someone who has committed multiple affairs may be considered as having "impulse control disorder." While this term describes the symptoms it doesn't answer any of the why's. Why is this person unable to control the impulse. They're here paying a lot of money to see me, they're smart, why are they unable to just not be impulsive? Why is someone anxious, depressed, addicted, continuing to play out unhelpful patterns in a relationship? To some extent it seemed to matter how much I really understood about what they were going through and what the reality of why & how it came about could be understood. I learned early on in my addiction work and research that shame is a major driving force in any addiction. So getting to the understandable part of a person's shame was important for releasing the shame energy, and therefore the addictive impulses, or problematic patterns.

For example, there were techniques for managing addictions, with the assumption that the craving would always be an issue, and there were ways to manage life so that one could resist the craving, often this included picking up "safer" addictions. For some reason I just felt drawn to understand more. It seemed that cravings or anxiety or any mental struggles were like a sign post signifying that something was amiss, something was out of balance. If things were able to be balanced perhaps the craving and struggle could actually be undone. And so, I began to study the experiences of those who had found that possibility to be a reality in their lives.

I began to blend traditional talk therapy with mindfulness & meditation techniques, and everything began to shift...even for me. What I found was that it was not our circumstances or illnesses that create the suffering, it was our mental processing around our experiences. I wasn't ready to dive into my own stuff...I mean, I did to a degree, but to be honest I felt I was doing ok, and plus as far as my own pain and struggles "I was doing everything I could do." I had let go of all I could let go of (so I thought). So, it really began with my clients. It was easier to see how this could all work through them. They were my mirrors.

To have people coming in and sharing their deepest, darkest secrets, pain, etc. is quite an experience. Truly, it's like nothing else. I found that I was getting to know my clients more than I knew anyone, more than I knew my family and closest friends. Many clients trusted me, and opened up in vulnerable, authentic ways that are not really even allowed in our culture (unless you're a therapist....I have a dream that one day we will all speak with each other this way, this authentically). My goal was to see them, to really hear where they were coming from. Because if I could understand, perhaps I could help.

And this is what I found...that my own judgements and many of my own beliefs were contributing to the pain of these people I felt deep care for. I had a client in one day. He was gay, had grown up in the Church, his parents didn't know he was gay (this actually describes more than one client) and he wanted to die. He had contemplated suicide many times, and even put a gun to his head at one time. He was beautiful, so incredibly loving, talented, intelligent...why, why would he choose to die? When he had finally admitted to himself he was gay and didn't want to marry a woman, ever, he realized, according to church doctrine, he would have to be alone. No dating, no physcial, romantic touch. This idea of romantic aloneness brought up a dark hopelessness. And then there were the fears of not fitting the picture. People would wonder why he wasn't dating, marrying. He would feel the judgements of others, of his family, of himself. At first I thought, "just don't let what others think affect you :)," which is kind of like saying, "if your father hits you just don't let it hurt you." These were his people, the only people and culture he knew.

I began to listen to clients trails of thoughts. I remember speaking with single women (older and younger), feeling depression due to the fact that they couldn't move "forward in life" because the "truest" happiness came from a family. This was one I could personally relate to. I had often just re-worded something I heard at Church to be less hurtful, and plus I assumed, "it'll happen eventually." But, I began to see how even though I was generally happy. My happiness was limited, because I believed it was supposed to be, until I married. I saw it in them, and then was able to see it in me. They were my mirrors.

Then I'd go to Church and I'd hear someone say something with a loving intention about marriage, the importance of a heterosexual relationship, of having children, of depression & how to be more happy, and my heart would feel twisted with pain. I would begin to cry and/or boil with frustration. What people were saying in ignorance (with good intentions)were the things I had once said, thought, and believed. They were the things my clients themselves were believing. How were they supposed to release a toxic belief when it was being reinforced in the very place that they saw as sacred, as the "most true." I remember sometimes watching clients in their most despairing times. As they sobbed. I would sometimes cry with them, and through the cleansing of the tears, and the quiet moments of contemplation with these clients, came the questions from deep within me. Coming from the Church perspective, when I would experience this previously I called it "God speaking to me."

- "Jenny, do you really think the only option I'm giving this man is to find a woman or else put all romantic longings on hold? Do you think it matters to me if he decides to be loving and give to the world his gifts from a relationship with another man?"

- "Do you think that the married woman you know are truly any more happy and fulfilled than this single woman could be if the single woman were to follow her heart and dreams, even if she never married?"

and from deep within, where the questions came from, the answers came..."no, my dear God, I don't believe that you're like that. Thank you for not being like that."

I remember listening to a lesbian client once explaining why she had chosen for years to be celibate (she had been quite influential in the lesbian LDS church community) and I felt the spirit, then I listened to her explain why she was now choosing not to be celibate, to find a female partner, and I felt the Spirit. These moments were so intriguing to me. How could I feel the "spirit" (that's what I perceived it to be, and the label I'd given that goose bumpy, warm, opening sensation all my life) when she explained that she now felt good and right about finding a partner? I'm not supposed to feel peace about something like that...but I did. I could feel the truth of it. "yes, as she's sharing that makes sense, that during that time it was good for her to be celibate. It was the place from which she could best work through things, best learn how to find peace and joy. And now, yes, it is good for her to have a partner, it is the place from which she can now best work through things, best learn how to find peace and joy."

I began to look at reality and the evidence of things...Getting to know my clients, the deeper parts of their lives and who was truly content and at peace. I found that some married people were at peace, some weren't. Some heterosexuals were happy, some weren't. Some gay people, even those in a gay relationship, felt deep joy, some didn't. Some religious people were happy, some weren't. Some LDS people felt at peace, some didn't. Some atheists were connected to a deep peace, some weren't. Some people who prayed, read their scriptures and served were content and joyful, some wanted to die.

It was as though it didn't matter the path of learning and experience. It was as though, none of these factors were what really provided true peace and joy. What mattered was accepting ourselves, having compassion for whatever path, in the present, allowed us to love more fully, be ourselves more clearly.

Over time, my allegiance to the organization of the Church faded, and my loyalty to what I saw as principles of love increased. It's funny though...principles of love. They are what they are to us depending on our path, and where we are in our experiences. I would have said before leaving the Church that the reason I didn't believe a man should marry a gay man was due to a principle of love from God, or the reason someone shouldn't leave their spouse..even if they said they felt right about it, was because it couldn't possibly come from an intention of true, pure love. While I honor that I truly believed those perspectives at the time based on what I understood, I also honor that I had very little experience and understanding of what someone in those situations experienced. Now I believe it doesn't matter, that only that person and God (whoever/whatever God is, or their "intuition" if the word God doesn't work) know what will bring them the most joy, and I call that a principle of love. I look forward to 10 years from now, where hopefully I will continue to increase in awareness of my own fears & judgments, and where I can open up to greater trust in love and truth and reality. What a ride!

"Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I'll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase 'each other'
doesn't make any sense."

-Rumi


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