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Transforming Suffering

Affirmation: I choose to find the blessings that arise from my suffering.

 

2015-Predictions-World-War-3-Fears-Tick-The-Doomsday-Clock-Close-To-The-End-Of-The-World-665x385-2The newspaper article explained that the Doomsday Clock has been moved forward to two minutes before midnight. It is closer now to the bewitching hour than it has ever been since the end of World War II and the creation of the atomic bomb. The Doomsday Clock is an internationally recognized design that conveys how close we are to destroying our civilization with dangerous technologies of our own making. First and foremost among these are nuclear weapons, but the dangers include climate-changing technologies, emerging biotechnologies, and cyber technology that could inflict irrevocable harm, whether by intention, miscalculation, or by accident, to our way of life and to the planet. (http://thebulletin.org/overview#sthash.KlhM9quB.dpuf.)

I wasn’t surprised. The world as we know it will end. I’ve seen all of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator movies and the ones about the meteors and the aliens. How about a worldwide virus or the bird flu? Hollywood and fiction writers have been predicting our demise since its inception. How about the Walking Dead or the movies about the Rapture? Yes, the destruction of our lives as we know them can happen in many different ways and any day now. If the world doesn’t blow up, it’s also true that our own personal world may implode or explode.

BePrepared-2Recently the magazine Cincinnati had an article about being prepared for the challenges of life, especially as we age or as our loved ones age. It was about being aware and taking steps to bolster our resources. As you probably know if you read this blog I am the ultimate Girl Scout. “Be prepared” is their motto. I am the queen of preparation and while it’s true I see the changes taking place in my life and the lives of my family and friends, I don’t want to walk around always waiting for the “other shoe to drop.” It is so very easy to await the next mishap or disaster. It’s so easy to allow my mind and imagination to go to the difficulties that might arise, to enter into “the cave of phantoms.” So, I’m working on finding a balance between being overly prepared and letting go of the probability of pain and suffering.

The word “transform” keeps showing up as I search for an answer to this question. The first time it appeared was in Richard Rohr’s, The Art of Letting Go. He talked about developing the ability to transform our suffering because everyone does suffer and the longer one lives the more suffering one will experience. Oh my! Therefore, you need to find a way to transform it or it will transform you into a sad, mean, worn out human. The second time the word appeared was in Father Ryan’s sermon at St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Church. He used it to describe what happens to someone who finds themselves connected to the Divine, either through prayer or when they receive the Sacraments.

TheArtofLettingGoThe secular approach to pain and suffering is to simply be the obverse of whatever is, not to judge it, not to get caught up in the dualistic mind of good or bad, right or wrong, black or white. It’s one of life’s simple concepts that is without a doubt one of life’s most difficult to practice, impossible to master. The Christian faith, however, takes the simply observing concept to a whole other level. That which we judge as pain and suffering, if laid at the foot of the Cross or placed in the arms of The Christ is transformed into blessings beyond our wildest imaginings. The naked, tortured body of God, nailed to wooden beams over two thousand years ago was the ultimate gift. His message was not clear as he was going thorough His persecution. Once He had given up His spirit, however, this poor, itinerant, misunderstood preacher turned our civilization inside out and upside down.

Station-12-Jesus-Dies-Upon-the-Cross-2Many can’t and don’t fully appreciate how he changed the value of human life and dignity. If we lived in some of the third world, repressed regimes today we might better appreciate the impact of Christ’s teachings. He came to teach us that no matter what happens to us it is all redeemable and we get to choose how we perceive our lives. We can see ourselves as victims or as victors. His message was that we are all children of the Divine and we are loved. Our afflictions are not punishments.

I once heard someone say, “Suffering is one of our common denominators.” We all suffer. Some suffer more than others, of that I have no doubt. It doesn’t take too much awareness to know of the horrors that have taken place or are taking place in our world today. Once we head out into the world figuratively or in reality and listen to the ailments with which so many of our fellow humans are dealing, we are faced with story after story of sadness and challenge. If one has not developed the ability to simply be an observer of one’s suffering, how is it to be transformed?

1-Finding-the-Answers1

I don’t know. I want to place an answer here for everyone who is suffering and I know there are the wise, learned people out there who might be able to do that but I’ve decided I am not one of them. In bringing this topic to several of my friends and guides the only “answer” that has presented itself is for me to look at how I personally can and do transform my pain and suffering. What has worked for me in the past? How will that work for me in the future?

My personality lends itself to looking at the bright side of most situations. It can be quite obnoxious for others but it sure has helped me get through some really tough experiences. I’ve studied what is recommended to help one deal with life altering challenges and have taken note of those skills, which I believe will strengthen me when I am again faced with those issues. Simply writing that last sentence out gives me a sense of strength and hope. Hope. I carry hope in my heart. I believe, truly believe that every event I label “daunting or miserable” I will eventually see as a blessing. I believe each challenge no matter how sad it makes me is an opportunity for something amazing. I know on my own, I may not be able to transform all the difficult happenings in my life into something wonderful. There will be many times I need the support of my family and friends. Let them come! I accept. And I know I will also need my faith.

What has worked for me has been to trust God, not that nothing difficult or unpleasant will happen to me but that I will be able to transform what happens to me into something that will give glory to God, or at least peace to myself. Even if I’m faced with the end of the world, I am hopeful that with my trust in Christ, His Blessed Mother and all my Angels and guides that whatever comes my way, I will be that person who sees the good, who rises to the high ground and if I can’t, I am trusting that someone will come along who will help me overcome my grief or my despair.

How have you dealt with your pain and suffering? Have you developed a philosophy that will support you in the future? What can you do today to “be prepared” for the adversities that life will surely present to you? Be a light for others. Share your coping mechanisms. Perhaps one of your pearls of wisdom will be exactly what someone needs to help them turn their suffering into a blessing.

God-always-has-something-for-you-a-key-for-every-problem-a-light-for-every-shadow-a-relief-for-every-sorrow-2

Let Go

Affirmation: I let go of struggle.

 

IMG_2839-2The immaculate Conception parish in Durham, North Carolina held it’s annual woman’s retreat this last weekend. It was at the Baptist retreat center on Oak Island, North Carolina. Approximately fifty women attended. They were of all ages and ethnic backgrounds. There was one man, Father Jude Siciliano but as one of the women tried to explain to me, he was such a remarkable man that the women attending would be very comfortable with his presence. She was right, very right.

As you probably know if you regularly read this blog, I am very familiar with creating and presenting retreats. This year will be our eleventh Pink Ribbon Yoga Retreat. At the time of this blog, our first planning session is about to take place. It takes a solid six months to get an event like ours together.

IMG_2830-2The committee for the Immaculate Conception retreat also works on their event for many months beforehand. It was very obvious. They didn’t miss a thing. It was everything I’d want a spiritual retreat to be. The design was very gentle with lots of free time. The rooms were comfortable and well appointed. The setting was originally Fort Caswell with remnants of the cement bunkers and walls in the midst of lovely houses and stunningly beautiful ocean vistas. We were able to watch the sunrise and the sunset. The theme was, Reclaiming the Gifts of Sabbath Living and we were encouraged to come with something written out that we wanted to eliminate from our lives. We were then encouraged to “take an intention” to help us accomplish our desire. I was right at home. I must admit I also felt a little smug; I mean I’d already looked at the year and I had set an intention. I was ready! I really was but just like all adventures there was so much to experience than I could even imagine.

IMG_2834-2We were a carpool of four. We were the only four from our part of the Triangle. It was a delightful ride to the beach. One of the other women took on all the driving and another coordinated our pickups. I was honored to be with these three spiritual sages. They had all worked hard at getting in touch with God, each in their own way. I couldn’t wait to see what I would learn from each of them. The simple fact that I was not in charge of any aspect of this trip, other than packing my own suitcase, was a gift in itself. What a way to start a new year, in the company of three very loving, wise women and then to share in the journey of several dozen other women all with the same desire to know God better, to find a way to be better connected to the Divine.

IMG_2836-2Father Jude led us in several ceremonies but for me the most meaningful were the two Centering Prayer sessions, twenty minutes of eyes closed and emptying the mind. How easy that sounds but how difficult to put into practice. I’ve meditated now on and off, mostly off, for over thirty years. I’m great at praying and of course, I always journal but being called upon to just sit silently, without going to sleep, for twenty minutes, twice a day, is simply something I haven’t made happen in my life, probably because I really don’t want to. I am a busy person. There is so much to do and to think about and of which to be in charge! I do fully realize, however, the multiple benefits of meditation, of resting the brain and in this case in finally being silent so that I can listen to God, not always be dominating the conversation. That’s what we were given, two twenty minute sessions to simply listen. Did God speak to me? Yes, She did!

During both sessions I received images that I cannot explain. I went into the first session with a question to which I could not find an answer and somewhere in that twenty minutes, an answer came and one I feel I never never would have arrived at using any other modality. I was actually stunned and felt a great sense of peace. During the second session I was prepared to simply sit quietly and repeat my word or “mantra” but once again I was visited with an image. It was a warm, comforting person and I was so grateful for her care. I might have stayed longer but the bell rang and she left. She left and yet I still feel her with me. I’m not sure if or when she will ever leave again.

Unknown-2I’m curious now, will each time in Centering Prayer bring a new insight, a warm feeling, a sense of peace and calm or was it the power of almost fifty other people sitting with me that presented me with these gifts? A few years back I took a ten week course in Mindful Meditation at Duke Integrative Medicine. I sat quietly in lotus position, crossed legs, on the floor twice a day for twenty minutes for ten weeks and then the course ended and so did my practice. I know all the benefits meditation presents. I’ve read about lowering blood pressure, increasing self discipline, improving concentration and about how the brain actually changes its state with ongoing meditation. This January there was a Sixty Minute episode that showed a computer scan of the beneficial effects on the brain during meditation. I haven’t read a self-help book yet that doesn’t at some point tell the reader to meditate. Presently, I am listening to Richard Rohr’s, The Art of Letting Go. I just began session four this week. Guess what the topic was? Contemplation or meditation and why it’s so beneficial not only to our bodies but to our spirits.

Am I ready? Can I do it? Even as I sit here and write I can feel the resistance. “Be careful what you pray for,” I’ve been told. So, I’m not going to ask God to help me with this intention. Instead I’m simply going to allow the time to unfold and present itself to me. My intention for the year had already been set before I ever got to the retreat, this is, The Year of Trusting in Christ. The quality I left behind at the retreat to honor Sabbath living was struggle. My affirmation is, I let go of struggle, even the struggle to meditate daily. I’m simply going to see how the days evolve and maybe this time, with God in the picture, my desire to sit quietly and discover His/Her message will come as a welcome gift.

Stay tuned. I’ll report back in a few months. Maybe you want to join me in this journey? I’d love to know what you might discover.

Trusting in Christ

Affirmation:  I dedicate this year of 2015 to
trusting in Christ.
It’s January 1st, 2015 and that can be a time for
reflection and retrospection.  I know
many people make some sort of New Year’s
resolution.  It can be a very common
topic during the first few days of January; “Have
you set any New Year’s resolutions?”  We all
know how they usually go.  Most people
are lucky if they hold onto those resolutions for more than a day.  You know the usuals: lose weight, stop
smoking, begin exercising, eat healthy, spend more time in prayer and or
mediation, etc. and then life takes over. 
The holidays are finished and most of us head back to work or to our
normal routine and that routine doesn’t
include those good intentions.  There is
however, ways to make permanent changes in our life.  Some changes we choose, those can be a gift
we give ourselves.  Other changes are
thrust upon us, and depending upon how we approach those, they can also be a
gift we give ourselves.  
I’m
very excited about this New Year.  I must
admit coming out of Christmas and looking towards the New Year, I didn’t feel excited. 
I felt anxious but I’ve been consistently
journaling and reading as much inspirational and motivational writings as are available to me and I’ve decided that this is my
year to simply go with the flow, to let go of the struggle and the challenges
that I’ve always created for myself.  My study group, The Seekers, is presently
reading Martha Beck’s Finding Your Own North
Star.
  I really had a difficult time
relating to the beginning of the book but midway through it took on new
meaning.  The section we are presently
studying is about The Change Cycle. 
Change, one of those elements that every human being experiences and
experiences all the time.  Sometimes we
are aware of the changes, they are dramatic and potent but most change is
subtle and insidious.  We go through life
not paying much attention to it.  It hasn’t really commanded our attention but it’s always there and how we deal with small changes is a
precursor to how we deal with large changes. 

My Enneagram type, Type 7, is
prone to anticipation.  It’s part two of Martha Beck’s Change Cycle. 
That may sound exciting but the truth is it can be exhausting and it
takes me “out of the moment,” out of
the experience of the present.  I miss
too much by not paying attention to the Now. 
Between Martha and the information about my personality type in the
Enneagram, I decided not to live like that this year.  This year my intention is to allow life to
unfold.  I want to live in the movement
of the spirit.  I can’t tell you what that will look like and I will tell
you I have prayed that I am not called to be a martyr but I’m still going to go with it. 

I owe this year’s intention to one of my dear friends and study group
traveler.  She gifted me with the book, One
Word That Will Change Your Life
by Jon Gordon and she has shared with me
over the year the impact of focusing on one word, like taking a mantra.  I know my intention is more than one word but
the word I’ve chosen to focus on is Trust.  It’s been
here now for a few years, floating in and out of my consciousness and my
affirmations.  A while back I developed
the RTR principle: I fully Rest in God’s care,
I Trust in God’s love and I Release myself from any struggle.  It was helpful but it was a little like a
resolution; I didn’t hold onto it for very
long.  I have discovered that when I take
an intention for the year, miraculous things, subtle and not so subtle take
place and without a lot of effort my life takes on new meaning and color. 
This is the third year of taking
an intention, declaring the year a “year
of.”  This
last year you might recall was “The year of connecting to the
Divine.”  It’s been a wild roller coaster
ride with the publishing of my book in February, the death of my mother,
Margaret Grolimund in March and the marriage of my daughter, Ellen, to Adam O’Sullivan in May but through it all there’s been a peace and a sense of being in the presence of
a greater power.  Each morning my journal
had the year’s intention written at the top of the page and even
though I mostly left the thought as I went throughout my day, I still carried
it with me in my inner being.  As with
all affirmations I believe they first enter your consciousness, then our
subconsciousness and then they permeate our cellular being and we are
different, different in ways we might never even imagined but different in ways
that enhance our lives. 

I’m
ready!  I’m
excited about this year’s intention.  I am expecting amazing, miraculous
things.  I know life will still hold all
the challenges life normally holds and maybe a few I can’t even imagine and for which I would never ask but I’ll be good.  I’ll let this new intention seep deep within me and
whatever the world throws at me, I’ll be
breathing deeply and knowing that since I’ve made
a conscious choice, every day to trust in Christ, I’ll look back on this year, just as I did on 2014 and
see the miracles and the blessings in all the hills and the valleys that is the
ride of my life. 

Christmas Miracles

Affirmation: I possess the Christmas spirit all year long.  
Miracle on 34th Street was released in May of 1947.  It originally had the word Christmas in the title but because of the release date it was removed.  How do I know this?  My husband, Sandy and I went to visit his mom, Yolanda, this last weekend.  She lives in Savannah, GA and they were having a fund raiser at the local original Savannah theatre showing Miracle on 34th Street.  We had all seen it many times and we knew it was delightful but we went simply to share the afternoon together and to support the Humans Society.  Once again, I was wrong!  Watching this classic, corny movie in the midst of a crowded theatre was a remarkably different experience than watching it at home alone or in a small group.  We laughed, sighed, applauded and shared all the clever and tender moments that has kept this film so meaningful.  
It’s definitely a secular film.  There is no mention of a God or Christ, other than in the frequently used word “Christmas” but what I consider to be the spirit of Christmas permeates every scene.  Kris Kringle, The real Santa Claus only cares about making others feel valued, loved and important.  It’s not about the physical gifts he’s been told to promote, it’s what they represent to the child or adult that is asking for them.  He brings people together for their betterment and the betterment of all.  He spreads his charm and good will like a net over everyone with whom he comes into contact.  He converts the unbelieving, skeptical Maureen O’Hara and her disenchanted child, Natalie Wood into people with imagination and faith.  He even converts the USPS.  
I saw a cartoon this second week of December, 2014 in the USA Today where two children were standing in front of Santa and asking for world peace and good will towards men.  He asked them if they’d consider an Xbox instead.  The news this week was so sad and tragic that I couldn’t listen.  It only took a glance at the headlines to see the horror that we are perpetuating on our fellow human being.  Has the devil won?  Has “Satan” truly become the ruler of this world?  It would be so easy to believe we are at the end of times but it is Christmas.  It’s a time to promote hope, peace and love for everyone whether one is or is not labeled “Christian.”  We know what He came to do.  He came to show the world that we were put here to love and to serve and that I believe, is the one true truth.  He was here to raise our level of awareness to a higher purpose.  He wasn’t concerned with the rules and regulations.  He was only concerned with the person and their well-being.  He was here to bring comfort to those who most needed it and to make uncomfortable those who are able to be of comfort.
I know there are many believers who believe theirs is the only way.  There’s the joke about the Catholic, Baptists, Mormon, you choose, who arrive in heaven and ask St. Peter why he whispers every time he gets close to this huge wall that is there.  Why is there a wall at all?  He tells them that the Catholics, Baptists, Mormons, you choose, are on the other side of the wall and “they believe they are the only ones up here.”  Oh, to be so sure.  To know that because you are right, you are saved and the rest of the world is damned and how truly sad.  I read a wonderful quote recently, “You can be right or you can love.”   
One of my greatest strengths is my gift of perseverance.  I believe it’s the reason I have accomplished most things in my life.  I truly believe if I simply “hang in there” I will learn or finish whatever it is I’m working upon.  The other side of perseverance is stubbornness and I am as guilty of that as I am proud of my determination.  Just ask my hubby.  This summer, for example, I wanted to walk a new path around Bass Lake in the NC mountains.  We headed out and after an hour we hadn’t reached the lake yet.  Sandy reasonably wanted to turn around.  Turn around!  I couldn’t even imagine it.  We hadn’t even seen the lake yet.  Finally, a few minutes later we arrived.  I knew we were close.  I was right!  Now he reasonably wanted to go back the way we had come.  Go back the same way!  No no no!  We needed to follow the path and head up the other way.  I had been told it was the same distance.  I knew I was right!  He agreed and we got lost and four hours later, we finally found our way to our starting point.  

Sandy not only didn’t leave me, he barely scolded me.  He lives a life of love, not right.  It wasn’t the first time he’s had to put up with my set thinking and I am here to confess he is not the only person in my life with whom I’ve exhibited this trait.  It’s one of those personality shadows that interferes with the quality of my relationships and which I have only recently begun to understand.  Perhaps, this is why I’ve been granted these sixty eight years of life so I can continue to recognize how flawed I truly am.  What was Pope Francis’ first message?  “I am a sinner, pray for me.”  Oh, yes, we are all flawed but as long as we don’t believe we are above or beyond anyone else, we can embrace our humanness and know that God created us just as we are.  She/He created the the miracles of this universe and we are, each one of us, one of those miracles.

Christmas is not an easy holiday for many many people but perhaps it’s because the true meaning has been lost.  Christ is coming, God.  He comes again and again every year and I believe he remains with all those who choose to love, care and be of service to the world.  The Christ, the Savior is here in the hearts of all who know the importance of spreading the net of compassion and love over everyone whose lives they touch.  That miracle on 34th street is the miracle that can be ours should we choose to open our minds and our hearts to The Christ.

May you have a Blessed Holiday Season and a life filled with the awareness of God’s love.