Friday, February 29, 2008

i am annoyed

Today I was compelled to stand up in meeting for worship and say:

I am annoyed at God.
I have been studying the Psalms and I know from this work that God is open and available to the full spectrum of human emotion.
And churches don't often share the angry psalms, the verses that say, where the heck are you, God.
And I am annoyed at God.
On Friday, I was joyous and content. I felt close to God, sheltered, covered.
I couldn't stay with those feelings.
Now anxiety hovers so close to the surface.
I am afraid that I will fall back into depression.
I will not -- I cannot go back there.
What I want from God is a guarantee that I will not be depressed ever again.
God will not give me a guarantee.
In the past when I have stood up in meeting it has been to express gratitude.
I have meant it every time.
And I guess I am grateful for yet another opportunity for growth, to learn again what it means to be part of a loving community, what happens when I ask for help instead of hiding.
I used to think it was up to me, whether I let God into my life...or not.
That I could control this process somehow. Like God wasn't going to do what God wants to do.

And then I ended with something about Grace. This transcript is only an approximation. I wish I could remember it more clearly.

What I know is that I shook before I spoke, and that my chest was tight, and I was short of breath. What I know is that after I spoke, I could breathe, and I felt lighter.

Throughout the day, different folks came up and thanked me for my message. That was great, but what I couldn't get over was how different my chest felt after I spoke. And when folks came up to me immediately after the meeting, with loving concern, I was like, no -- really -- I feel ok.

Now the great ending to this story would involve throwing out my anxiety meds, or something like that. The truth is, there is still a lot of anxiety hovering below the surface. It doesn't take much for me to feel my breath shortening or to feel shaky and disoriented. But rather than getting caught up in "this will never go away," I'm trying to adapt. Get sleep. Eat healthy. And allow more time than I usually need in order to get things done, because I can't afford to rush--I feel too bad.

And I'm also trying to see anxiety as a time of being particularly attuned to what is going on around me. God knows (you do know, don't you?) that I don't want to live like this, but I can gather some interesting information...

Saw Anne Lamott this evening at the Free Library in Philadelphia. She was hilarious, wise, compassionate, kind. And hilarious. She said some things that were hard for me to hear because they were so true. About relationships, and saying no, and boundaries when caring for others, and how we are drawn away from our birthright as children of God by being consumed by a fear of being judged by our outsides. I'm so not getting this right, what she said was amazing and I really hope the talk will be on-line some where so I can listen to it again soon.


Thursday, February 28, 2008

power bars

One of my post-Pendle Hill challenges will be eating right. Here in the Main House kitchen, I get to eat salads at lunch every day that would cost at least $6 at the Whole Foods salad bar. For the whole lunch I eat (soup, salad, home-made bread and tasty leftovers) I would easily be paying $12. It's HARD to eat well as a single person...I've torn the lettuce and cut the carrots for 65 people, and it's not as tough as trying to keep a bag of greens from composting before you get a chance to eat them all.

So I missed (the fabulous Pendle Hill) lunch today, and dug out a Balance Bar Gold (caramel nut) to sustain me until I could grab a bite to eat.

Ok, that thing was disgusting. I used to eat them all the time.

Were they always gross? Have I just gotten used to eating real food?

What will I do?

a few PPH (post Pendle Hill) thoughts not ringed by terror

Ok, so I had my first productive PPH thoughts this morning:

1) I will pay attention to leanings, and understand that exploring an option does not mean a commitment.

2) For the sake of my whole being, I must continue to make it a first priority that I live a God-centered life. (I'm not saying I always keep this priority now, even in the sacred space of Pendle Hill. But I see the difference in my life as a result, and it simply does not make any sense to do otherwise.)

3) I am willing to be underemployed in order to give my art, spirit, and emotional life room to develop and grow. Especially if the work is life-and-spirit filled for me. Note to Mom & Dad: I am NOT selling myself short or saying that I don't deserve to receive fair renumeration for the work that I do. Really. I'm just opening up some space in a time of transition.

4) I don't want to jump immediately into some huge job that will take all my attention and energy. I want to practice living/working outside of Pendle Hill without sabotaging myself.

5) I want to earn enough money to support myself, and I am willing to live on a budget (and stop buying stuff) in order to allow room for the spirit to work in my life.

6) I am also willing to throw all of the above out of the window, because, to love God means knowing that you just don't know what the heck will happens next. I may be the executive director at a major non-profit organization with a 25 million dollar endowment starting July 1. Who knows?

Sunday, February 24, 2008

I've decided to try and post every day...

We'll see how it goes. I want to get back to basics, just putting down a few thoughts and not getting too caught up in how good the writing is, or isn't. I wrote a few longer pieces that I got kind of bored with, and never posted.

So today, at 8:50 a.m. here is my thought for the day:

In response to a particular dilema I faced (in the realm of the heart), my friend L. said:

"Move forward with discernment and courage."

A terrific idea in most any circumstance.

I'm off to meeting for worship, and then to the last session of my Centering Prayer class -- which has been totally amazing. Then out to buy red fabric to create a red carpet for the Pendle Hill Oscar bash this evening...

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Feelings...nothing more than feelings

I've been sick over the last three days, and as my friend E. confirmed, "I don't do sick well." It's kind of a long story, but my experience of my bad cold (it's a really bad cold) also involves feelings of guilt, resistance to the care of others, and fears that I'm really not that sick, and I'm just a wimp for, you know, acting sick.

Whatever. It's just another FGO (f^&*ing growth opportunity), as we say here at Pendle Hill. And I've been doing an ok job taking care of myself (I watched four episodes of "Ugly Betty" on the web yesterday) and I've been gratefully accepting soup and refills of my big glass of oj/water/ice from the kitchen across the quad.

Sara said she was praying for me to get better. What do you do with that? And all the "hope you feel betters" and "is there anything I can do to helps" You mean they love me, they really love me? For goodness sakes. Hmm, then where is all this judgment coming from? Could it

Anyways, me "not doing sick all that well" also has something to do with how physical illness (at least of the snotty, voice-losing, nose blowing kind) is more obvious than sickness of the brain, meaning depression, bipolar, etc. This is in no way to say that one is harder than the other, or that there isn't also lots of cultural baggage around physical illness. But for most people, a cold or serious menstrual cramps are easier to relate to than depression -- especially since many people equate depression with having a bad day. It is a bad day, a very very bad day. But not quite the same.

I got away from the original reason I started writing this post -- I hope you're still with me. One of the gifts (it's a gift, it's a gift, no really, it's a gift) of my time at Pendle Hill is the time to more fully experience feelings that kind of got shoved down PPH (pre-Pendle Hill), due to lack of time, or courage, or the possessing the skill set to survive the said experience. It's hard work.

One of my cues that hard stuff is coming up is that I start to hear -- feel -- "I'm dying. I'm actually dying. Wow. This is what dying feels like." The "dying" feeling comes when my being becomes aware ("realizes" is too much of a head thing -- this is a full body experience) that a very big part of my identity is about to let go. Some deeply held belief about myself is about to rise up above the surface, crack, and float away (I'm working with an iceberg visual).

The first time this happened I was in a class on non-violent communication (NVC). There was a lot of talk about self-compassion, and part of me was listening and participating, and part of me was going, "I'm dying. Wow, this is what dying feels like. I'm dying. Hmm. Dying." During a break, I spoke with my friend E, who conveniently, is also a Shaman. I looked straight at her and said, "I think I might be dying. You're sitting behind me (sort of next to me) and I need to know that if any Chinese stars come through the window, you've got my back."

Without asking for any further explanation, she said, "No problem. I'll stay next to you."

This is why I love Pendle Hill.

I've gotten the dying feeling a few times since then, and I know now that it signifies a painful transition, a letting go, and ultimately, a new space is created for something new to emerge. I can't help think of the "Alien" monster bursting out of Sigourney Weaver's belly -- nothing about this process feels pretty. Necessary, yes. I'm grateful, yes. Anyway (and I'm not complaining), it's hard work.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Pendle Hill Update...

To my friends in the blog-o-sphere...It's just over half-way through my time at Pendle Hill, and I'm posting an update I sent out to some folks via email. I'm hoping to post more often on my blog these days -- a task made easier by finally having internet access on my hall. I've got to be careful though -- it's too easy to get lose time on the web...

Enjoy, and see you soon!

Dear Friends,

I’ve been wanting to write and say hello to you all for quite a while now; what I’ve been experiencing is that when going through an intense, challenging, and ultimately wonderful experience, it’s sometimes hard to gain enough distance to create a semi-cohesive narrative. So here I am, in term two, ready to report back to the base-station – the amazing community of folks who lovingly sent me off on my adventure at Pendle Hill.

I want to say THANK-YOU to each of you who took the time to send me your great good wishes upon my leaving CDS. Though my time at Pendle Hill has definitely affirmed that I made the right decision to move on to a new opportunity, the emails that were sent in response to my announcement made a HUGE difference as I took the leap into the unknown.

Now that my second term at Pendle Hill has settled into a routine, I’m excited to report that I could not have imagined the transformation(s) I would experience in such a relatively short period of time. I think part of it was that I was ready to jump in – though I’ve experienced some serious resistance to change (the worst patterns are both unbearable and somehow comfortable), the amazing thing is that I have the time and support to observe of what is happening – of patterns of thinking and behavior, of reactions to people and circumstances. I can’t even begin to tell you what a gift it is to have time to be mindful and then to process my observations.

Other resident students at Pendle Hill include a Methodist minister; a Unitarian minister; a former development officer (who raised 8 million dollars for her last project with the Philadelphia parks system); a 20-year old from Kenya, a shaman/healer/Quaker; an environmentalist with the email address “;” a youth advocate from Rwanda; and a Southern Belle who attempts to mother us all and teaches sacred chanting and dancing…it’s a pretty amazing group of people.

Another thing about living in community is that if someone drives you nuts, there’s no escaping him or her. So there is ample opportunity to explore the idea that what you find most frustrating in others is also what you need to work on in yourself (or at least take the time to understand why a particular behavior makes you so nutty). But for the most part, I deeply value the experience of being in community. It helps a lot with my tendency to isolate when I’m having a rough time – if I want to eat, I can only spend so much time in my dorm room without having to walk over to the dining hall. And I feel safe here, with many folks who are in similar spaces with regard to life transitions and emotional and spiritual growth.

At Pendle Hill, we have the Quaker meeting for worship every morning, meeting for business, and in the fall, our class of students collectively coined the term “meeting for napping.” There is something about deep change that is just exhausting, a kind of spiritual narcolepsy. When I first arrived, it was my goal to find a favorite place on campus where I could go and write. A few weeks into term, I realized I had three favorite napping placing, but still hadn’t picked out the right place to sit down with my computer and write. (FYI, my favorite place to write is in the art studio – generally, my favorite place to be for everything.)

I took two courses in the fall term. “Grounded in the Spirit, Acting in the World,” explored the connections between spirituality and social justice. I’m looking forward to working further with Niyonu Spann, the course instructor and former dean of Pendle Hill. Her approach to diversity work is exciting. Niyonu invited me to participate in her “Beyond Diversity 101” course this spring, and to work towards being a part of the team of trainers who deliver the program. (Here is an essay by Niyonu that explores her philosophy.)

My second course last term was called “Spirit Taking Form: Clay and Stone as Spiritual Grounding.” Let me be clear: I love working in clay. It’s muddy and messy. It’s extremely tactile. And until you fire it, it’s completely recyclable. As a way of shifting back into a creative life, it is the perfect medium – and because I’d never really experimented with clay before, my self-judgment quotient was exceptionally low.

What has emerged from several aspects of my Pendle Hill experience is a collection of work I’m calling “The Belly Project.” The short explanation of the project is that I’m making plaster casts of bellys (including my own) and then using the casts to make clay sculptures. The glazing/designs of the final products are determined in collaboration with the belly owner. I’m also interviewing folks about their bellys – I’ve found that bellys are a topic lots of people want to talk about.

I’m INCREDIBLY excited to report that my “belly” work will be on display in the main gallery of Pendle Hill from mid-April to July. It’s great to have a space and deadline for the project, and it feels good to me to further ground my identity as a “community-based, mixed media, conceptual artist” (my working title!).

So – this term I’m taking courses on the Psalms, one on different forms of prayer, and one called “In the Beginning Was the Word: Looking Again at Religious Language; Seeking a Powerful Faith,” which is confusing to explain (as the title might suggest) but taught by an excellent instructor. All of these courses, and my (almost daily) attendance at meeting for worship are deepening my faith in God. God feels present to me, less a special occasion visitor, and more like a frequent (and welcome) companion. Which is good, because I feel I’m being asked to stretch myself, and open myself, to possibilities I could not have previously imagined.

More prosaically, I’m continuing my role as a Pendle Hill hospitality queen (working at the welcome desk), which still involves a start-time of 6:30 a.m. a couple of days a week. The community ethic of shared work, viewing service as a holy act, and the environmental philosophy (most of the “waste” at Pendle Hill goes to recycling, composting, or the chickens) both enable Pendle Hill to function and provides a deeply grounding community experience – kind of a sweat-based spirituality. One of my favorite jobs is hauling and spreading woodchips (donated by a local lumber company) on the walking trail; having walked on the path many times, I know how much enjoyment is existence and tidy upkeep gives residents and visitors alike (I know this is sooo geeky, but it’s true.)

After this initial update to y’all, I plan to start updating my blog “Bipolar Girl Rules the World on a regular basis. (Speaking of which, Bipolar Girl the documentary is still in the works!) And I’ve messed around with a website to share of my photography and other creative pursuits – you can find my artist statement for “The Belly Project” here.

It’s also been wonderful to have a chance to reflect on the richness of my home community. I miss being around friends and family – and my dog Kacey, who is being cared for expertly by my sainted parents.

To sum up, I’m wildly grateful. It’s amazing when I contemplate what might happen during the remainder of my time here at Pendle Hill.

Thank you for being part of my journey!