Monday, December 31, 2012

Javert's Suicide

I saw the new Les Mis movie today. One part that stood out in a way it never has before was Javert's suicide. Javert addmitted to Jean Valjean that he had grown up amidst thieves and "scum," therefore claiming to really know and understand Valjean. My heart was drawn out to Javert who I imagined had likely grown up in a painful, chaotic situation and decided to become part of the law to see justice done (for those things that had hurt him as a child).

The problem was there had been no experience for Javert of a "thief" being a good person, having a soul and a heart, and the ability to change. When I used to see the play I figured he was committing suicide because he felt so much shame and guilt for chasing Valjean all those years, only to be met with compassion from Valjean. However, this time, while watching the movie, I experienced his desire to die from a different angle.

It connected with the moments in the last year that I have felt something similar to what Javert described...

"And must I now begin to doubt,
who never doubted all these years?
.....the world I have known is
lost in shadow."

"I am reaching, but I fall
and the stars are black and cold
as I stare into the void of a
world that cannot hold"

There were a few dark moments, where all I could see was a void. The world I had known no longer existed, and the stars (those "solid," shining beliefs) were black and cold. It was like nothing I had felt before as "all my thoughts flew apart."

Our brain is programmed to make sense of the world, based on what we take in through our five senses when we're experiencing life, and how we then translate that information and feel emotions. Javert truly couldn't imagine a world where a thief could have a good heart and was not something he had personally experienced (he had likely experienced the opposite, and/or been told the opposite: that thieves and "scum" could only cause problems and could NEVER do good), so to be faced with a thief that didn't do what he expected one to do literally short circuited the neurological pathways he'd built in his brain to make sense of the world. It reminds me of a fuse being blown, and suddenly everything goes dark.

In those moments that my own fuse was blown, I saw a reality that was not only what I had never expected, but one for which I had no framework. There was no story, or experience, to hold what I was seeing, hearing, etc. And, in those moments everything went dark, and it was a terror like I'd never known. And those were the moments I thought to die would be better than to feel what I was feeling...the nothingness...the void. In a way, that moment was a death, and if I no longer existed (if I was so deconstructed that the way I saw the world no longer existed) why stay? Plus, when I felt that emptiness I thought I was maybe losing my mind, or would go crazy.

In my own study of those who have been along this kind of a path, this can be a normal part of the experience. What I have found was that those who've seen more of reality may be more likely to be able to work effectively through what could be terrifying moments. Example of realities some may be more exposed to than others: that people can be moral and not believe in God, that people can be unsure of an afterlife and still feel meaning in their lives, that the history of the church you've heard all your life may not reflect all the events...even the "important" they actually occurred, that you can be a single woman of 32 and be just as fulfilled and happy as a married woman of 32, that someone living in a gay partnership may feel just as joyful in their love and be just as valuable to society as someone in a heterosexual relationship.

It seems that in these moments when a belief is blown up, by seeing or experiencing a reality that is different than the previously held belief, if there is some way to anchor yourself to that reality it can be ok. If you can anchor to something (or to someone who can hold what you cannot on your own yet), you can allow the belief to break open (it's old form to die) and then eventually expand, and trust that you'll still exist, because you're actually kept alive by reality, not by your beliefs.

And possibly Valjean represents a greater experience of what is possible (a reality we'd never before known). When these Valjean's show up in our lives we may wonder much like Javert..."Is he from heaven or from hell? and does he know that granting me my life today, this man has killed me even so." How true it is that these moments that blow up our ego (beliefs that are not reality) to smithereens, are also the moments that give us back our lives, that set us free and grant us access to the freedom we forgot was ours.

NOTE: * If you are going through an experience like this, and are having a hard time finding something to anchor to, it may be helpful to seek help. If suicidal ideation gets to the place where it feels like a possibility, know there are other ways. Find someone to talk to immediately (someone safe). If you don't know anyone a therapist, or two, or three, until you can find someone who can understand. If worse comes to worse know you can always call 9-1-1, or go to the emergency room. When the brain short circuits there's no shame in keeping ourselves safe until we can rebuild safety within ourselves. I found it helpful when I had no holding place for a reality that was unexpected, to talk with someone who did have a story or a way to hold it. Even though, over time, I've found I've needed to form my own story (since no ones will perfectly resonate with our own), there are many resources offered by those who have walked the path before. One website that may be helpful for understanding the "trauma symptoms" that can accompany a faith crisis or fath transition is:

"Do you believe in God?"

"Do you still believe in God?"

It's been a popular question I've received since leaving church. I've never been able to settle on a solid answer, and I usually offer some sort of explanation...listening to myself as curiously as the one who questioned me is listening, because each time I answer it comes out differently. I've decided that part of the reason it's so difficult to answer is that the question itself is not clear.

So from now on if you ask "do you still believe in God?" I will ask what you mean. What is it you are really asking...?

QUESTION: "Do you believe there's one man, whose form is solid and never changing, with a white beard that is in charge of everything?"

ME: What is it you're really asking here? Why does this matter to you? How does your experience with this belief influence you?

QUESTIONER MAY REPLY: Well, it seems that it's important for me to know this because it helps me feel like I'm loved by a personal being.

ME: Yes, sometimes I feel that same need. To know I'm loved by something that makes sense to me. This is especially true when I feel like I'm facing problems I can't make sense of and/or I don't have another human that day I feel understands me and I can be close to. Because I sense that whatever/whomever "God" is is much bigger than I can make sense of, I Sometimes like to visualize it/he/she in form. I practice both using a form that has always represented pure love to me, as well as opening space for a feminine form that also can represent pure love to me. The picture or story seems to give me something to more clearly relate to from my own form-based experience. Other times, it feels more helpful to feel this omniscent love and knowing in all things...the smile of a friend, the stars and greater universe, a plant, animal, piece of furniture, bite of food. Sometimes studying science feels like God to me. Sometimes, it feels like it's within me. Since I've found that I can experience that love and support in many ways, I no longer feel it necessary to assume that the picture I grew up with is an absolute and literal truth.

The Baghavad Gita (a Vedic scripture) explains that the impersonal nature of "God" is the absolute and unmanifested, but that we can't make sense of that through our manifested self...our senses, and it can be helpful therefore to have a connection to something that feels personal. I think the problem comes when we assume our story of meaning & truth, or "God," if we call it that, to be literal and the only "true" or acceptable story (ps. everyone has a story...whether we call ourselves Christians, Atheists, Agnostics, Muslims, etc). From that place of having to be right and absolute, we have no option but to compare our story with others, becoming judgmental as we have to assume that ours is more right and we know more, have more answers, or are happier than others.

OR QUESTIONER MAY REPLY: It's important to know I can become like God...that my mortal self will be able to take up its body again, that the end is not really the end.

---Ok, so I just wrote out a long response to this under "ME:" based on possible replies to this, but it got way to long and convoluted, and complex, so I deleted it. I realized that for me there are enough hidden meanings, and fears, in this statement that I would need to break it down more. Maybe one day I'll take time to do a post on this, but for now I'll just list one follow up question I have to this statement.

- Why does it feel scary that who you think you are (your gender, motivations, family, career, church testimony) might end or change forms?

My FOLLOW UP RESPONSE: This feels so difficult to address with words because it's still a newer experience for me so I don't have much language to explain yet, but I was pleasantly surprised when some things I thought were ME had died, and I found that I was still there...not the "I" I had known before, but a deeper, older "I." It was like a memory of the me I had long forgotten. And it didn't seem to have anything to do with being human, my gender, my relationships, my beliefs, and so on...

OR QUESTIONER MAY REPLY: My belief in God as a man in form motivates me to know there is someone actually aware of when I'm doing "good" things & "bad" things. If there wasn't someone there I'm afraid I wouldn't have any direction and would not be as fulfilled in life. "If I didn't believe in God I don't know where I'd be."

ME: In that case, experience with a form-based God may be very helpful. I think it's why religions have been such a helpful part of the healing process for so many people. They've given a story of love and forgiveness that one can (maybe) wrap their head around. Example...If you see God as a father, and you've been a father, or know how your father was with you (or at least how you wanted him to be) it may help you bring in attributes of protection, compassion, understanding, strength, etc. to your own process of learning/healing to visualize a "father God."

The flip side is that whomever you would see a "parent-God" to be, would be a projection of your own experiences of who your own parents were, who you wanted them to be, and who you yourself, as a father or mother, want to be. So, again to believe that your perceptions signify an absolute can be problematic, esp. for someone with an abusive parent. But, even for those of us with "loving" & "safe" parents, this can prove problematic because all human parents have their own humanness, and we may assume some of their attributes to be the best or right way...not knowing there even could be another way. When we put these attributes on God believing that is what judges us, it can get quite sticky.

So, while believing in a "loving father God" for the majority of my life did prove a way to "keep me in line," it didn't leave room for the whole process of building trust with myself. Because in the areas that I just couldn't "keep in line," I was feeling guilty and beating myself up, or just numbing out (which is precursor to out-of balanced behaviors, and addictive cravings). Thinking...I just needed to try harder (read more scriptures, pray or fast more). I felt weak, inadequate, and was always petitioning something outside myself to give me more strength. When my belief in a literal "man" as my creator and judge began to drop gave me a chance to sit in my "weaknesses," "cravings," etc. without judgement and see what it was they were really all about. It also gave me a chance to begin to watch what I'd judged others for (drinking, coffee, sex before marriage, secular sundays, etc.) without judgement so that I could watch what my own fears of these things were really about, and begin to think about making choices based on understanding cause and effect (which are often circumstantial and based on intention).

I'm learning that I can choose health for me, because I love myself and honor my life. I don't need to love and appease someone outside me (though again...a helpful part of the process when we're going through moments that we don't remember our goodness or that we're worthy of self-love). So I thank all of those that have been my "Gods" (and sometimes still are) when I feel empty inside and am in process of rebuilding from a hurt or parents, siblings, nieces, nephews, friends, boyfriends, teachers, mentors, healers, pets, clients, the picture of my mormon God, yoga, the mountains....thank you all for remembering who I am when I didn't know how to remember myself.

If you were to ask if I believe in God I would look into your eyes. I would want to see all the things that made you forget that you were "God" of your experiences. Maybe then we'd remember each other, and there probably wouldn't be anything to say.

"A medieval Christian proverb says, 'To search for God is to insult God.' This saying implies that God is always present and any search for him is a refusal of this fact. We are westerners and have to search in order to learn that there is no search."

- Robert A. Johnson in "HE."

Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Trapeze

(post originally written on Dec. 9th)

I began a post earlier today, and just felt numbness as I wrote. As I slowed myself down and noticed the numbness, I thought, "What is it I really need right now?" I've been a bit behind on writing and have wanted to get around to a post for a couple of weeks, but I realized that as much as I wanted to give and share, what I really needed was something to feed me. I feel like I've been needing more often than I've been able to give the last few weeks. Perhaps when we're in transition with something, and feeling the weight of the stress, it's helpful to honor our need for more rest, more downtime, and more help from those around us. I watched my roommate get ready for Church, and felt a longing to go simply to have some company and something to do. And yet, I knew I didn't really want to be there. Mostly I was lonely and longing for some company and connection.

I got on netflix to find a movie that might offer a sense of communion and connection with something greater than what I felt connected to at that moment (loneliness, confusion, boredom). I ended up watching a movie called, "Raw Faith." It was interesting and offered some parallels and understanding. I especially connected with Marilyn (the main character) taking a risk to let go of something MAJOR in her life (her position as leader of her church), not knowing what would follow, to make space for the the kind of life & love she was now ready for. She talked about it being like swinging from one trapeze to another. As you let go of the trapeze you're holding, there is a moment when you're suspended mid-air, not knowing for sure that something else will show up to hold you. But if you're willing to take the risk and follow the inner guidance, you have a great opportunity for the next experience of growth to show up.

"Life is a labor pain, we are here to give birth to ourself."
- Bernie Siegel

Who I Am (part 3 of 3) I almost wanted to abandon this "Who I Am" 3-part series because it's so long and wordy, but decided to finish what I started,

Two more verses of commentary:

"See I thought love was black and white
That it was wrong or it was right
But you ain't leaving without a fight
And I think I am just as torn inside"

This continues to be a trap for me...Seeing things as black and white. I think I've been doing it for so long, it's sometimes like an automatic programming in my brain. I don't know what else to say about this one right now except that there have been two ways that the black and white, have been balanced and bridged in my life: My own experiences, or being with another in their experiences. experience :)

Even moving away from the Church felt like this. When the sadness or anger got big enough and I hadn't yet processed something, I would feel a reactive trigger inside me: "I'm out of here," I would think. But it would come from a place of anger, and a feeling of pulling away my love from the Church. While these moments still come up when I find out more about the Church history I didn't previously know, or experience another layer of awareness of how a perspective I've held for so long has hurt myself, I've realized that any time I feel the black and white's something to look at more closely. The black and white sensation for me is a feeling of all-or-nothing...example: "it's either true or it isn't," "it's either right or wrong," "it's either good or bad," "I'm either loving towards the Church or I'm angry." Usually neither extreme is as helpful as taking time to be able to see the reality of both sides.


And I won't be far from where you are if ever you should call
You meant more to me than anyone I ever loved at all
But you taught me how to trust myself and so I say to you
This is what I have to do"

Many people who are also struggling at church have confided in me that part, or all, of the reason they stay is to help others who are struggling with how to hold a more nuanced view. I can relate, as I worried that when I left the church I would no longer be trusted by those I felt I "helped" that were in the church but struggling with it. I have found that leaving church has left me with no less to do as far as helping others. It doesn't matter where we are in any process of any experience. There will always be others around us who will be seeking love and understanding. Because I spent so many years in the church, and had many ignorant and judgmental thoughts, and hurt people with ignorant comments (and still do because I'm human), I do feel a particular desire to be there to help others who call for help and understanding.

As I think about it, it wasn't really the church that had my greatest love, it was the people. It was the teachers, ward members, and neighbors who loved me.

"You taught me how to trust myself." While part of leaving is to continue this journey of learning to trust myself, I have also found that many of the things I learned through the avenue of religion, have been helpful in me following through with my readiness to leave it. Teachings about trusting my "spiritual promptings," about honesty, integrity, responsibility and courage.