Sunday, October 21, 2012

Who I Am (part 2)

(a continuation of the previous application of the lyrics from "Where I Stood" by Missy Higgins)

"There were sounds in my head
Little voices whispering
That I should go and this should end
Oh and I found myself listening"

- I just talked about this similar idea in the last post. For a little more clarification, growing up I really didn't ever feel anxious at church. In fact, I quite enjoyed the contemplation time...even when younger, to be in my own head thinking about principles of love and some of the greater existential questions of life. And going to classes was great... I've always been naturally studious, so I "knew" all the right answers ;) and I felt very "successful" at church. Looking back, I did feel some blocks in discussing spirituality with my parents. I just noticed that if I got uncomfortable about something they were saying I sort of withdrew. I think there was a fear of being misunderstood, or seen as prideful or rebellious if I had a different perspective. So, it really wasn't until I started practicing therapy and I saw pain & situations that were outside of my perfectly formed framework of answers (and those of the bishops, stake Presidents, etc. would send people to me to work with things they didn't know how to assist with), that I began to feel anxiety, anger and pain at church, and the God I'd been taught to believe in. I realized I didn't know squat, and I was angry everyone else was "pretending" to have answers (I don't believe this was done maliciously or even knowingly, and I'm sure many reading this may feel offended and misunderstood by that statement, but it's what I felt)...I felt like I knew they were "pretending" because it's what I had done for so long, without even knowing it. I'd often said "I know..." this or that because a leader of the Church had said it, or it had "felt" good, or I'd observed something and created the correlation in my min. In research it's important to control for variables so that when something is observed (through experience), we get the correlation correct. (i.e. "after a blessing someone experienced immediate healing."). The answer to that would be, "then the church must be true." While drawing this conclusion makes sense, it doesn't hold up against the reality that in many cases blessings don't lead to immediate healing, and in many cases blessings given in other religions also may lead to immediate healing. Assumptions and "I knows..." were made without really getting clear on the correlations. It wasn't until situations for which the church doctrine, as I knew it, couldn't offer an answer (and which I couldn't just put on the shelf labeled, "figure out later because it's not essential to your salvation to know this..."...that I really began to ask the questions with an "open" heart :)...without believing I had the answers or knew things I didn't really know.

I hadn't realized that I'd been lying to myself in believing I knew all the important answers, or that at least I belonged to the ONE organization in the world that had more answers than anywhere else, because my church was the one organization that God was most likely to communicate with. While there were certain experiences and feelings that I'd interepreted in certain ways, I didn't KNOW. That awareness for me has lifted a lot of weight (weight I didn't know I was carrying)'s also left me open to receive answers through my intuition, in a myriad of places. And what I've found for me is that it isn't really about the answers for which there are currently no answers. It's about love. It's about understanding each situation for it's own uniqueness and supporting a path of self-discovery, an understanding of cause and effect based on actual reality, and authentic expression.

"Cause I don't know who I am, who I am without you
All I know is that I should
And I don't know if I could stand another hand upon you
All I know is that I should
'Cos she will love you more than I could
She who dares to stand where I stood"

This piece...this really is a BIG one..."I don't know who I am, who I am without you." I had NO idea until the last few years how much of my identity was the church. I'm not talking my relationship with a higher love...i'm talking the church...the organization, the doctrines, the culture. When I decided to step back from church, I would go through moments of contemplating that would sometimes end up down the path of fear and panick. "What kind of a person am I?" "What DO I believe?" The panick would bring on more questions..."who is God...what is real? Who will I become without the mormon church?"... and I would feel the fear of disappearing into the black hole. In those moments I would remember the meditation techniques I'd been working with...I'd slow my breath, and I'd let go of the analyzing mind, and just say, "Jenny, in this moment what do you know?" When I'd sit with that I'd often feel that I knew that who I REALLY was was still there. "I believe in love," I'd acknowldege. "I've felt what it's like to love something/someone. I believe in that," I'd say in my mind. Sometimes I'd have to keep breathing with it, and just stay focused on that...just stay focused on what I knew...from my experience...not from what anyone had ever told me.

I went on a road trip with a good friend about 4 months ago. She'd had a really difficult time when I told her I was leaving the church. Mostly it really scared her. She'd been following similar lines of questions and thinking as I over the prior couple years. She's been studying therapy and so would often call to discuss our humanness, the meaning of life, etc...and we would always go back and couch it into the framework of the church since that's the language we both spoke. On our road trip one of the things she said on our drive out to Colorado was, "it's nice to be here with you, it makes me realize that you're still you, you're still the same person." While I was grateful to hear that, as it validated what I was also realizing about myself, I felt a tinge of sadness & anger towards all cultures, religions, groups, etc. that place themselves in such a way as to be above the big "S" Self. That the identity of the organization is what stands as the head. Rather than the identity of the person. Again, coming from the space of the religion and culture, I never would have realized or been able to acknowledge that without experiencing it. "I know I'm separate from the church," I would say, or "I know my relationship with God is separate from my relationship with the church." But, really I'd formed so many beliefs about who I was around the church, that it's taken some time...still working on it, to separate who I really am from the church. And, I suppose in a way, I will always be connected to the church because it was a part of my experience for so long.

If you're reading this and thinking, "no...I don't feel that way," ask yourself if you've ever said, "I don't know who I'd be without the church?" or "I don't know where I'd be without the church?" If so, it's an identity (an identity to something outside of yourself). It's one thing to acknowledge that my experiences have been influenced by the church, but quite strange to realize that without it, I'M STILL ME!!! I am still me!! I still have a conscience, I can still feel Love and "the spirit." I haven't just wanted to go out and get drunk, do crazy things have sex with whomever...and even if I did, and even if I'd wanted to more drastically change my experiences (ok...I have done a few things I wouldn't have expected of myself...part of my process I suppose), I don't believe our experiences ARE us. I believe they're our experiences. Again, I acknowledge that the church is a framework of language and perpectives, and community that can influence our experiences, and that may be helpful to us at any point along the way (as are many religions for many people), but there's nothing that is TRULY me and no principle of love based on my true identity as a being of love, that isn't as real and present in me from outside of the church as it is from within. I didn't know how to even begin trusting this until I stepped back.

It's also interesting to look at how I'd use it to identify others as well. I can clearly think about times that I met people who weren't in the church and I could hold the relationship much easier if I created an energetic separation between me and them, however subtle and unconsciously I did this. I can be their friend, I can talk with them, enjoy them, but I can't really get close to them...unless they want to hear "my" message of "truth." I felt it just wouldn't be safe. Again, there wasn't a way to conceptualize this until stepping back. When I did I began to realize that what I didn't even realize as walls to those outside of the church weren't there as much (it's a slow process). I noticed that I began to give more equal attention to the opinions of those outside the church, that I saw that they had just as much to offer me about understanding life, as I did them. I suddenly felt that I could begin to let myself feel "close" and "vulnerable" with people outside the church. That I didn't have to pretend to be this super human who had all the answers and never did anything wrong (to show my example of why the church was true). That I could be a human, that some of my thoughts and opinions would be similar, and some would be different...just like they were with anyone else, even in the church.

This has actually been one of my favorite parts of the notice myself open my heart and be more authentic not only with my "tribe," but with anyone I feel safe enough to be close to. I still notice some fear of dating outside the church. It's like there's some kind of false safety set up. If they're not in the church I have a fear that they will not hold their relationship to me as sacred, that they might be more likely to be an addict, that they'll be more likely to want divorce. I say this is a "false" safety, because as I've observed marriages both inside and outside of my office, I realize that church membership doesn't have anything to do with a good, close, loving marriage. The principles the church teaches (at least the love based ones) may definately be a benefit to relationships, but those principles are all found outside of the church as well. I have yet to find any principle of love that was important to me inside the church that is exclusive to the church. I'm now working to connect with others based on principles, not culture.

and above all, I'm now learning who I am, who I am without you.

"You are the Tree of Life. Beware of fractioning yourselves. Set not a fruit against a fruit, a leaf against a leaf, a bough against a bough; nor set the stem againsts the roots; nor set the tree against the mother-soil. That is precisely what you do when you love one part more than the rest, or to the exclusion of the rest."
-Mikhail Naimy

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