Working through the Holiday Blues

Dealing with anxiety and depression this time of the year? Yea, me too.

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The holiday season can be difficult for many people, for various reasons. Fond memories of holidays spent with loved ones who have now passed. We miss them. The reality of a broken family, a reality we suppress for most of the year, can become stark, vivid, and central this time of the year as we painfully mourn the hurt and bitterness that splits up so many families. It can be a lonely time for those with no family, friends, who will spend Christmas day alone, yearning for companionship. There are the poor, who, having been lead to believe by our American, capitalistic tradition, that is a day about giving lavish gifts to the children, and they have nothing to give to their own children. No, I am not against gift giving on Christmas. To each their own in this regard.

There is something about knowing that you are not alone in your struggles in life that helps lift the burdens even if it is so slight. Needless to say, my holiday seasons are never easy on me. Every year I am bombarded with anxiety, depression, and grief, and it seems like all my wounds rise up and reveal themselves.  I often find myself drinking too much, eating too much, and doing my best to numb the pain as best I can. My daily walks in the woods, meditations, my exercises in mindfulness, all go by the wayside as I am swept up in one violent maelstrom of emotions.

Holiday seasons are rough for many people, I know this. I also know that holiday seasons can be full of joy, laughter, times of light and reconciliation, a time to wind down from a busy year, and to see loved ones that you have not seen in a while. This blog post, however, is not about joy, it is about pain, and coming to terms with it. For those who are still with me, you know what I speak of.

Every Christmas season I reminisce about my childhood memories. I would say my childhood memories of Christmas are a few bright spots in an otherwise dark childhood. The two people who showed me love, gave me attention, and genuinely made a mark on my life are my two grandmothers. I remember going to their homes on Christmas Eve and Christmas day. One of my grandmothers always had a giant lit up star right at her front door, I can still see it clearly in my mind. As you walked into her foyer she had this small, green, clay Christmas tree with many colored lights adorning it. I remember the excitement of the season for me as a kid, and being there with my Grandmothers and other family members. Both my grandmothers have now passed on, one when I was 14, and the other just passed three years ago, right before Christmas. Every year, the grief of their passing rises to the surface for me, as I think back on those years of being with them, and all the light filled memories. I guess the grief never really leaves you when you lose a loved one, and I think allowing yourself the grief is a major part of the healing process. I know so many of you grieve for lost loved ones at this time of year too.

To add to these memories of the past and the tumultuous emotions flooding my mind, the current rifts in my family unveil themselves and put on quite a show each year. For one, my relationship with my dad has been one of great pain. He lives 10 minutes from my house, literally, and I think I have not seen him for two years now? I have made every effort on my end to reconcile with him. I have forgiven him many times over, and I honestly hold no animosity towards him anymore, though I did for years. The men’s work I have been involved in (with Illuman) these past few years has really helped me to work through my anger and rage towards my dad. That said, it still hurts not having a dad in my life, and I am coming to grips with the fact that this father wound will always be a part of my life. Needless to say, my efforts of seeing my dad this past Christmas fell short once again, same old story, and I don’t know why I keep hoping for something different each year?

Next on the dysfunctional family list is the rift between my mother and brother. I myself am not on the greatest terms with my mother, and I feel bad for that, yet, I don’t know how to heal that wound. I have tried, quite a few times. I keep telling myself, to let all this go, focus on the moment, on your children, and live your life. Yet again, there is the brokenness of my family unit staring me right in the face. So much pain, and for those who are not willing to do any inner work, the pain will always be there. This pain will continue to feed upon itself, and when it seems like it has faded away it will just manifest in a different form somewhere down the road.

This is true for all the unresolved matters in our lives. Holding onto resentments and bitterness and never really facing it means there will always be strife and a continual wounding in life. We wound ourselves, and then we transfer this pain to others. Hence, all the suffering you see in this world today. There will be separations and bitter arguments, and the sad thing is that so many families will never reconcile. People carry these unresolved issues to their graves all too often. Perhaps, if they’re lucky, while on their death bed their hearts may open up, soften up, enough for them to reconcile and make amends, but this does not always happen. I think of this when I hear teachers talk about how the key to life is to die before you die. In other words, allow your heart to open up now. Sometimes we don’t have the luxury to know that our life is coming to an end soon and that now is the time to get all of our affairs in order. Do it now, why wait? This is a grace if you can  get hold of this while you still have breath, strength, and time. It is a very hard work, a humbling work, and those who you attempt to make amends with will not always reciprocate. Remember, you are doing this for your own heart, you’re not responsible for the state of another’s heart.

Seeing all this in my family creates so much anxiety and hurt for me. My nature is to play the savior and come in and fix it all, to play the mediator, and try to work out the reconciliation myself. The thing is, I can’t do that, and it is yet another thing I have to let go of. Easier said than done and easier to write this than to live this.

All I can do, all we can do, is to open our own hearts, do our own inner work, and endeavor to live a life of love, and sometimes the door may open up to where you can speak words of reconciliation into another’s life, but in the end, you are not responsible for anyone’s salvation. You are only tasked with doing your best to guard your own heart from bitterness, to seek forgiveness, to forgive, and to work out your “own” salvation and healing. Work on you, do your inner work, and I truly believe that your own transformation is one of the greatest catalysts for change in the lives of others.

I believe we are all connected. I think some of us feel more deeply than others, and sometimes, during seasons like this, you are not only feeling your own griefs, anxieties, and depression, but you are also picking up on other’s emotions. I have noticed that when I can sense another’s state of mind, whether it be a joyful state, or an anxious state, that I often feel as they do. When we raise our level of consciousness and awareness, I believe we lay the groundwork for others to take these same paths. We become trail blazers. So, know this, you are not alone, do your inner work, and seek peace with all. Endeavor to live a with an opened heart, rather than with a constricted heart, bound in fear and suspicion. The wounds, they can heal, they will over time, though the process can seem slow. You can become whole, and you become who you truly are, who you already are.

In speaking with some brothers of mine on these issues, they they have offered me some advice on the anxiety and depression I deal with this time of the year. They encouraged me to make a list, to be conscious of all that I am thankful for. Yes, the pain and griefs are real, but the joy and the light is just as real. For me, it is the beauty of my children that gives me life and hope, and the faithfulness of my wife and her long suffering towards me, which gives me strength. It’s being with the ones that do care, the ones that I can share this life with that gets me through another day. It’s all my brothers that I have met during my time doing work with Illuman that I am so thankful for. I am still breathing, and hope and love still abound in my heart, and I can still see that light inside, so while the darkness is there, so is the light. Do not forget about the light.

It could be, that right now, you don’t see any light, and I have been there all too often. So, my last words of advice, for what they are worth, is find a friend you can talk to about your struggles. If not a friend, find a therapist, a spiritual director, anyone really. We can’t do this alone. For so long I tried to do it all alone. Those are some of the darkest years I have yet to know. When I received the advice to find someone to talk to, my thought was who? I set my intention to finding friends, community, and professional help. Over time, it came to me. You have to be intentional about this work, and you will find that doors will open, and people will come into your life. You are not meant to be an island unto yourself. Dare to open your heart so that that light can flood in.

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Has Christ Been Misunderstood?

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The traditional, mainstream, evangelical take on salvation is this. Believe the right way, and now you’re accepted by God, saved, and your ticket is punched to heaven in the after life, and you’re saved from the fires of hell, where billions will burn for eternity because they don’t believe like us, which of course is the right way.

My interpretation of salvation is this. It is being “saved” from our own pride, greed, selfishness, and blindness to the needs and hurts of others, our eyes opened to love, a shift is made from our violence, our violence that is not only physical, but psychological and emotional. Salvation is about healing and wholeness, and coming into an awareness of Love. Salvation is about true transformation.

Salvation is not attained through a set of beliefs or religious dogma of any kind. Religion, and belief, if it’s any good at all, is meant to only point us in the right direction towards salvation, wholeness.

I have encountered many people who are transformed people, who are loving, kind, and reach out to and love all, and they don’t “belong” to my religious tradition. Yet, so many are stuck on a tradition, on dogma, on a set of static teachings, that they are blinded and don’t see that their narrow views only hurt and harm. To this, I pray for our eyes to be opened. I was once like this, and I still find myself gravitating back into a dualistic mind that is tribal, and is us and them oriented. I ask for grace to help me to see when I am being pulled back into this.

Salvation is simply finding your soul, your true self, which is grounded in pure being, in pure love, in God, in Christ. So what if we don’t all use the same terminology for it? But for many, if I don’t use the correct buzz words, I am lost and off track. This does not only apply to Christian fundamentalists, but there are many who belong to other beliefs and philosophies that will cut me off because I call myself a Christian and use Christian language to articulate my personal beliefs and path.

That said, I spent 13 years of my life as a strict fundamentalist. I believed the right way, according to my tribe. I dressed right, voted the right way, said the right things, and hated the right people, which was everyone that was not like us. Of course, we dressed up our efforts to convert them as being our love for them. What we didn’t know, is that we hurt many. I was homophobic, bigoted, and small minded. I had no depth of being, no true internal transformation, yet externally, to my tribe, I was respected.

I ended up questioning, and left, and in turn, many brothers and sisters, people I knew for years, turned their backs on me. Yet, as painful as my deconstruction was, I now see it as the grace of God.

Being authentic, and vulnerable, and by going on my inner journey, I have experienced awe, wonder, Love, and compassion for all. I have met some of the most wonderful people. I have some brothers in my life now that I can talk to, and they love me regardless of what I believe, or don’t believe.

Life is complex, it can be very hard, and lonely at times. Yet, take comfort, we don’t walk alone, and if we allow our hearts to open, we can go on a true transformational inner journey, which is ongoing. Allow each to find their own terminology, their own path, and their own tradition that will help them in this process, on this journey.

For me, Christ is universal and all can wake up to Christ in them, regardless of what words they use to describe it. The Buddhist says, all have Buddha nature. The ability to wake up, in Christian language, it is being born again, is salvation, it is coming into our wholeness and learning what it means to be deeply human.

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Finding Sacred Space on a Monday

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“Monday”, it seems to carry with it a bad reputation. A time where so many wake up to lumber off to a place they rather not be to live a dream they are told to live. I am one of those. Thoroughly caught up within the system with its webs laced about my soul, dragging me down, further into its depths. Yet, I choose to wake up even when I am trudging through traffic on a cold Monday morning, with vehicles all about me, rushing to get to a destination where they would rather not be. Maybe this explains why they are so angry when I seem to go too slow? I don’t know.

This particular Monday, as I drove into work, during that early morning hour, a liminal space, right before the sun’s first light graces the sky. It was a cold morning in our part of the world on this Monday morning, enough to make shivers ripple through your body if you stood outside long enough. As the sun’s rays began to filter over the tree line they started to reflect off patches of fog, there to the right, and to the left,  where still waters on pond’s glassy surface reveals the morning fog lifting like specters that fade away into the suns warm embrace. I turn off my radio, with its sports show droning on, the one that I listen to every morning, and take out my prayer beads, and I begin to say my Jesus prayer. Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner. I say my prayers, as I take in the beauty around me, finding a sacred space on this mundane Monday morning.

On this Monday I had a Dr.’s appointment. Set for 11:45am. So, with book in hand, I enter into the waiting room, for any visit to a Dr. always guarantees a long wait. I arrive at the front reception desk only to find that they have messed up my billing once again. I went through this before with them. They made me angry the first time, and I had to become ugly and rude to finally break through and get things right. I don’t like being like that. So, when upon arriving today, to be told that this billing issue has reappeared (something with the insurance, damn them), I felt my blood rush and heat rise into my face, and my frustrations mounted. I felt a brief pause inside, you know, that calm before the emotional storm, that awareness that you can sometimes find where you have a space to decide on how you’re going to behave based on the emotions presenting themselves to you? Well, that kind of pause is what I had.

The young women behind the counter knew me, and I wonder how she felt when she knew she had to tell me about how the problem with the billing was back again? After my pause, I simply said, you remember when this happened last time? She said yes. I told her I didn’t understand why we were going through this again. She let me know that she would talk to the finance person in charge at the office about this. I decided to let it go at that. I very calmly said, thank you, and I took my seat, with my book in hand, to wait for my Dr. to finally call me in.

It’s these little things in life. These little moments. It’s not that they make us so angry, but they are triggers that release the anger that is already inside of us. Have you ever seen someone just lose it over something that seemed so insignificant? You think to yourself, why is this person making such an ass of themselves over something so small? The truth is, it’s not so small, for what they are showing you is their pain and hurt deep inside of them. We just don’t know the battles people are going through. So, be kind, compassionate, and mindful of this. This advice I write to myself, as well as to others.

I have been that person, at the Dr.’s office, making an ass of myself over a billing issue, when in reality I was just letting go of pent up anger, hurt, and pain at something so small. I was triggered. Most of the time, when we are triggered, we become unconscious of what we do. This is where taking the time to be still, to listen, to watch the sun gently rise, to take in the fog as it slowly drifts along on a cold Monday morning, and as you say your prayers in traffic (whatever that is for you, maybe it’s just you breathing in and out, noticing, feeling, being mindful of the air as it flows in and out), can give you the space to be. It’s where you find that still place, your place of refuge inside. Storms will come in life, they are guaranteed, so build your house on the rock, the ground of being. Be still, breath, look around, soak in the beauty, and then be aware, be sensitive to that slight pause when the emotions inside begins to possess. Be still, breath, and be aware when you see the emotions of others, of your family, friends, neighbors, and the stranger, begin to surface. They, like you, are fighting battles you know nothing of.

 

 

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Answers?

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“I hope you find the answers you’re looking for”.

This line that has been said to me, written to me, so many times, which usually translates into, I am walking out of your life now, I don’t agree with you, you’re lost, I’m not, and I’m not going to let you drag me down with your erroneous thinking. At least, that’s what I read into the line. I write this because I just had this line written to me for the hundredth time on a Facebook post of mine today.

Then, I have to ask myself, what “answers” am I looking for? This question is something I have been musing on today, and I thought, hell, let’s write a blog on it. When it comes to an existential truth my conclusion is that this is subjective to the person answering such questions. There is no concrete truth (this is not a concrete conclusion), though so many believe that they have the absolute concrete truth, usually with the lines, Well the Bible plainly states this. What they don’t get is that the Bible doesn’t plainly state anything, it just states what they read into it. We all read our sacred texts with subjectivity, through our own lenses, and most of us are not aware of this; me included for many years of my life. This does not apply to Christians only, I only use this particular religion, and point of view, because it is the tradition I come from. Why do you think there are so many religions, so many denominations in Christianity (About 40,000), so many different traditions in Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, and Islam, so many different takes on the nature of existence among philosophers, and scientists alike?

I dare say that anyone who is “certain” about anything is only looking through their own lens, whether they be Christian, Atheist, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, and keep adding to the list as you please. Everyone has an opinion on what truth is, they all have their arguments lined up, their world-view well-constructed, and I am no different. It gives us security, and to lose a world-view, to lose something you have based your whole identity on is frightening and traumatic. I know this first hand. We fall into the chaos, we come apart, and yet, if we wait, we will be reconstructed, though we will be layered with complexity and nuances, pulled along with the tensions, and where we once stood in a world honed out in black and white with straight edges, we now stand in a  multicolored, multifaceted world with ever shifting landscapes.

I am learning that what I see, how I think, what I believe is ever shifting, ever evolving, and I know that I only see in part. St. Paul wrote about how we all see through a glass darkly. Anne Lamott has written that, The opposite of faith is not doubt: it is certainty. Faith is mysterious, it is what grounds me in the end, it is where I let go of the need for answers, letting go of fruitless searching, and I just rest in the Love of God, and trust in the integrity of Christ in me. I trust that this God, who is Love, is at the center of each being that arises in our world, who resides deep within our consciousness, and was fully expressed, and manifested, through the life of Jesus. This my path, the one I look to as an example, the one I follow on the path to death and resurrection, over and over again. This Love is expressed in all of creation in my opinion. Some, after reading this, may say, See, you claim to know the answers, this is not the way I see it though. My answer is, I don’t know, this is just how I ground myself in this world of mystery and unknowing. It’s important that we all find our path of meaning, and then go and walk it out. It’s all a mystery, and answers shift and change as we shift and change, and as Buddhists say, nothing is permanent. Pema Chodron says, Impermanence is a principle of harmony. When we don’t struggle against it, we are in harmony with reality.

The sacred texts we read shift and change in their meaning and context as we grow. Nothing is static, everything is moving, and changing. Matter itself is not solid. Solid is but an illusion, as the atoms that make up matter are in constant motion and matter is but energy slowed down into a condensed state. Consciousness is the energy that permeates all of reality, the perception and awareness of all that is, through which we see ourselves, this world, the universe. Science is not static, as it searches for truth among the laws of nature that govern the physical universe, as theories are revived and fine-tuned. A true scientist will end up saying, I don’t know, just as the mystic will say, I don’t know. Admitting that, I don’t know, gives us the propulsion to keep moving forwards.

I don’t know, but I do have faith. We live in a world of paradoxes, and tensions, where life often makes no sense. Why the suffering, the grief, the doubt, the confusion, why all the unanswered prayers? These are questions I have stopped asking for answers to.

So, I am not so sure that I am looking for answers anymore. I am just on a journey, and true growth is what I am desirous of. Learning to live in this moment, with deep acceptance of what is, with all its joys, pains, and sufferings, with all the confusion and darkness that comes with being me. My desire is not to find God, or prove that there is a God, or explain why I believe the way I believe to anyone. Rather, I desire to live authentically, with vulnerability., and to experience God. I want to practice letting go, forgiving, being merciful and compassionate, instead of vindictive and consumed with bitterness. I want to be inclusive and open my ears to hear the wisdom and beauty wherever, from whoever, it presents itself to me.

For example, I can type out all these nice posts, and blogs, and put up pretty pictures on Facebook with wise quotes attached, but how do I live daily? If my life matched those quotes, then that would be nice. The truth is, my life is messy, and I am learning to be okay with that, to forgive myself, and that is an inner work in itself. I am learning to forgive others, forgiving practically, in everyday life.

An example of this. We have these neighbors that I just don’t like, and when I ride by their house sometimes I feel anger and bitterness  rise up in my heart towards them. What I have endeavored to do is to bless them as I pass their house when I have these feelings rise up in me. When I lose my temper with my wife, or my children, I make sure I look them in the eye and ask them to forgive me. I teach my kids all the time that we have to learn to love one another and forgive often. I am endeavoring to do the same.

“I hope you find the answers you are looking for”, it has been said to me time and again. No, I just hope I can learn to live authentically, in this moment, with love for all people, and to live with empathy and compassion, for both myself, and for others in this crazy, messy, beautiful world we live in.

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Living With an Opened Heart

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We were on a part of the trail that involved 4.1 miles up a mountain ridge, at a steady incline that seemed so much longer than 4 miles, more like an endless trial. We hugged the ridge of the mountain, to the left and right lay beautiful vistas of the Appalachian Mountains, clear blue sky, the silence of the forest surrounding me. All I could focus on was the excruciating pain in my legs, my knees, my strength and stamina lagging, failing, forty pounds strapped to my back, a burden that would be with me for the duration of the hike. When would this be over? When will we make it to our destination where we could unshoulder our loads and call it a day? One step in front of the other, I don’t think I can make it. This is what consumed me as I cussed each step up, cursed when each bend did not lead to the crest of our ascent. I was oblivious to the beauty surrounding me.

I have always loved hiking, but my hiking to this point involved day hiking, never any extended hikes like we were on now. It was the first week of October of this year and two brothers and I had set out to do a section hike of the Appalachian Trail (AT), which consisted of 45 miles, a trek that we planned to do in five days. To the trail hardened hikers, this may seem trivial, but for me, though I was not completely out of shape, but not in hardened shape by any stretch of the imagination, this would be the most physically challenging thing I have done to this date in my life. It is an experience I will never forget. There were lessons I learned on the trail, lessons about hiking, the weight of your pack, learning how much I really did not need to take with me, and lessons on endurance, pain, and learning to be present and let go with each step.

As I ascended this particular slope, with pain and longing for it to end, I intentionally starting focusing on my breathing, being in this moment, watching each step, making sure they fell in the right place, knowing a slip could send me rolling down the side of the mountain. The thoughts of getting to the end and, what the hell was I thinking in doing this, I shoved to the side. Be present. This became my mantra, and this would be the only way I was going to make this ascent. As I did this I would force myself to just stop, look around, breathe deeply, and take in the beauty around me. The beauty flooded my soul with wonder and awe, breathing in the cool mountain air, allowing the silence of the forest to settle within me. The dichotomy of this inner experience, this beauty around me, with the pain and exhaustion that radiated all over my body, was fascinating. The strength and will to move forwards, to tighten the belt of my backpack, and to keep taking that next step filled my mind. Onward I went. Needless to say we finished the hike after five days, I was still alive, all bones in place, and no long rolls down a mountain side were experienced.

Life is much like this experience I had as I climbed that mountain ridge. The pain and suffering that life doles out to us can consume us. We don’t know when it will end, and we think, if I could just get there, everything will be better. The fact is, if you get “there” things will be the same if you don’t find the beauty and the presence where you are at right now. The opening of the heart is one of the bravest things we can do in life. It is frightening, not easy in the least bit. To stop, to allow the beauty of life to flood your soul, to be present with the pain, accept what is, this is key. So many live their lives with a closed heart, one made of stone, in an effort to shield themselves from the pains of life. We hold onto our anger, unforgivness, and our pains. We cling to the past, as the past repeats itself over and over as we cling and grasp. We feel guilt for what we have done or didn’t do and we harbor ill will towards those who have harmed us. Letting go, and forgiveness, is foreign to us, we don’t even know how to begin to open up. I am not writing this to tell you it is easy, or give you some formula on how to forgive, to let go, to open your heart. The opening of the heart is a work of grace, one that I can’t explain in a rational, intellectual, way.

I have always gravitated towards reading books by hospice workers. Death fascinates me, it always has. There is something about the unknown, and that I am heading towards this unknown, as we all are, holds my attention. One book I recently read, and one that I can’t recommend enough is, The Five invitations, Discovering What Death Can Teach Us About Living Fully, by Frank Ostaseski, a Zen Buddhist who helped found the Zen Hospice Project. In this book he tells numerous stories of people who came to the Zen Hospice for their final days. In it, he often writes of those, who on their death bed, begin to open up, begin to forgive, and how people who were once hard, bitter, and cynical, became open, loving, forgiving, and soft of heart. Not all of his stories were like this, as some would take their bitterness to the grave and die an ungraceful death as they refuse to let go, and instead they die gripped in the clutches of fear, of the unknown, with all this pain still locked up inside of them. Not all of us are going to get a chance to know when we are dying, and then get the chance to make things right with others, with ourselves, with God, and we will leave with undone work, with things we wanted to say, but never did, locked up inside of us in our still, cold, lifeless, stony heart. Why wait? Death is guaranteed, and none of us can predict when, or how, it will come. In fact, we are all dying now. With each moment, we come closer to our death. Will it be sudden, or gradual? We don’t know. I have heard Richard Rohr, a Franciscan Priest who I have come to love and respect, say many times, “The key is to die before you die”.

How do we do this? What is it that whispers in your heart to do? Does your heart whisper to you that you need to forgive that person who hurt you? That you need to let this anger go, to process this grief that burdens you so much? Do you long for your anger to go away? If you hear these whispers, this longing, it is a start. The whisper is the still small voice inside, don’t shut it up, or tune it out. I would like to say that intentionality is key to opening up as we begin to learn to live with an opened heart. Through this, we start to develop compassion, empathy, and we no longer see others as our enemies, but rather we see them as human beings longing for love, just as we do.

Trust me, I have my share of pains, and anger. I am forty years old as of this writing and I still feel the anger towards my parents for a troubled childhood. I feel the anger towards my wife, after seventeen years of marriage. There are people I work with that irritate me with their griping, biases, racism, and how they pull me down, and I hate it. I suffer from depression and anxiety regularly, and I try self-numbing through alcohol on a far too often basis. I have battled addictions, both with drugs in my younger years, and with religion and fundamentalism in my later years. Now, I can say, these past few years, I have truly begun to open up, to become vulnerable, and intentional about opening up my heart. As a Christian, who lost my faith, left fundamentalism, and now have returned to a more contemplative Christian path, I see the gospel (good news) in a different light. The good news is simply this to me, love and forgiveness. Learning that I am loved, and forgiven, learning to love and forgive myself, and then extending this out to others. It’s a process, it’s not linear, but it’s my intention. Taking the time to say I’m sorry, to empathize with the other, to endeavor to live a life of love. Though I fall short often, it is still my intention. Yes, my heart still can become hard and cold, but then grace will inevitably come along and open me up again. The path is not linear, it often zigs and zags, spirals up and down, circling over and over to the same old places, climbs painful mountains, takes you into the dark valleys, reveals beautiful vistas, and fills you with both pain and bliss, awe and wonder, faith and doubt.

The point is, how do you want to live your life? Angry, bitter, with closed heart, towards yourself, and others? Or, do you want to be free? Do you want to forgive, to let go, to say those things that need to be said, to yourself and to others? Will you do the hard inner work and lay aside your pride and ego? Or, will you continue in the hell of your own illusions? The key is, to die before you die, for death can come quickly, and you may never have the opportunity to open your heart to the world and give it the gifts that lie dormant inside of you.

Grace and peace to you, and may we all live with an opened heart.

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Deep Acceptance

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It’s been a while since my last post. Life can be hectic, with storms and trials beating down from all sides. Loneliness sets in, and hopelessness makes itself at home building solid foundations as if it intends to stay for a while. My faith crumbles on me often, and as one who has sought God for many years, the seeking comes to an end. Not that I have found God, nor that have I found that there is no God, but perhaps the energy to find an unknown is energy not wisely spent. I am speaking for myself of course, and for those who still seek, for those whose faith is strong, I encourage you to stay the course. Each should find the path that leads to peace for them. As for me, I choose to let the unknown be the unknown, and perhaps through this the unknown and I become better acquainted. The lessons life is teaching me is of learning the way of mindfulness, awareness, living in the present, and deep acceptance. Not an acceptance of losing, or an acceptance of despair, but rather an acceptance of letting be what is, which includes the loss, the despair, the joys and the triumphs. The struggle to obtain and to find, I let go of.

Rather than focusing on the metaphysical, and trying to patch up a faith spotted with glaring holes, and searching for illusive pieces to a puzzle with infinite shapes, I now focus on being here now. There is light and darkness, there is pain and suffering, there is joy and then there is utter despair. To live in all of this with deep awareness and acceptance is a noble path. Learning to accept myself, with all my flaws and idiosyncrasies, with my various faults and blindness, with the baggage that life has hung about my shoulders, through deeds done and deeds not done, this is key. Forgiveness and compassion and to live with mercy and patience towards myself, and then extending this out to others is a worthy endeavor. To those who have hurt me, who have shunned me, and caused me pain, I forgive, and this is a daily practice. Some days I do this better than others, and that’s okay. To those I have hurt and wronged, I ask for forgiveness. I come to an awareness of my own darkness. To own my deeds instead of casting blame, this is part of waking up. The darkness that I have brought into this world, into my family, into the lives of those around me, I accept. The awareness of my own darkness allows light to be born, both from within and without.

Intentionality. That word has become paramount to me. When my anger is blinding me, when my depression is pulling me down, can I be intentional about being mindful when these emotional states set upon me? Can I be intentional to still go out and listen to the birds sing, and look into the beautiful eyes of the trees as they sway in their majestic being? Will I make the effort to look up in awe at the stars, and wonder at existence, when existence seems so hard? Existence, sometimes non-existence sounds sweeter, but this feeling too passes. When I don’t want to get out of bed, and dread the day ahead, can I be intentional and go to work and treat my co-workers, customers, family and friends with kindness, realizing they too are fighting battles that I know nothing of? We are all in this together, and your own trials and pains, your own griefs are not yours alone, but we all share in this journey. Will I be intentional to not build walls between me and my friends, between my brothers and sisters who walk this path with me? Can I intentionally live and accept what is today?

The journey moves me forwards, and though times may be dark and hopeless, and the night long, I can be present and allow the light within to shine. This too shall pass. The good and the bad, all shall pass and come again. There will be deaths and births, and worlds will come into being and fade away, and the circle will spiral. Worlds on the outside and worlds from within, being born, dying and then born again. Myriads of worlds, forming in the chaos. As I traverse the spirals of life, the seasons will circle about, and perhaps, as we grow, we come to truly know, that mystery is the deepest truth that we can come to know and live in with deep acceptance.

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Smoky Mountain Blues

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To find truth, one must travel a dense fog!” ~David Dweck

May 20, 2017, 7:30am

We were all arising early in a cabin located on a mountain side in Gatlinburg Tennessee. Four of my soul brothers and I were headed over to the Cherokee nation, on the other side of the great spine of the Smoky Mountains to experience a day long ritual by learning to build a Native American sweat lodge, with a sweat to follow that evening. Our Cherokee guide would be waiting for us at 8:30am in the Cherokee nation to guide us through our day long holy work. The route that we would take to Cherokee would lead us through a portion of U.S. Route 441.

The Great Smoky Mountains derives its name from the Cherokee name, Shaconage (Sha-Kon-O-Hey): land of the blue smoke. True to its name the vastly rich and diverse vegetation of these mountains release vapor whose molecules scatter blue light from the sky. Driving through this mountain range has become a holy pilgrimage for me over the years. Even though around 11 million tourists take this same voyage each year, it is always a sacred ride for me. Route U.S. 441 nearly runs along the old footpath called, Indian Gap Trail, that was used by Native Americans to hunt for food for hundreds of years. Artifacts have been found in this region suggesting that Natives lived in this area nearly eleven thousand years ago. When I enter into this enchanted land I can feel the ancients abiding in this place. With reverence I behold the sights of the scenic views that this drive has to offer.

Over the past few years I have had the privilege of navigating the twists and turns of Route U.S. 441 with its beautiful views. My favorite stopping point is Newfound Gap, which is the highest elevation that can be passed by road in the Smoky Mountains with an elevation of 5,049 ft., just under a mile. This is where the Tennessee and North Carolina border meet and a parking lot rests to its side where you can get out and behold magnificent breath taking views. Mountains stretch out and roll over the horizons below you on either side while blue haze and lazy clouds drift through the mountain passes with brilliant sunlight reflecting off of them or beaming through cloud gaps as angelic rays come down from the heavens. Blue serpentine rivers twist and turn away below you and all you can do is stand there in awe and wonder.

This morning I convinced my brothers to leave a little early so I could stop at Newfound Gap so that we would be able to have a small bit of time to soak in the early morning beauty before starting our daily journey through the sweat lodge rituals. They were happy to oblige me this request and so we wound our way slowly up into the mountains. As we rose in elevation thick fog began to roll in and when we reached Newfound Gap the visibility was next to none. All the vistas I had dreamed about lay shrouded in the fog. If one were to never have visited this place before, without the heavy fog to cloud their vision, they would never guess at the vast stretches of beauty that lay unseen right before them.

While my brothers were not too keen on getting out I still pulled into the parking lot. I wanted to get out and look, even though there was obviously nothing to look at. My brothers opted to stay in the car. I exited the vehicle and stood there gazing out into the fog where I knew the magical vistas hid and in my mind’s eye I imagined it as I had seen it before. I watched the fog roll in like great waves on an ocean shore and break and spill into the parking lot. I knew that if we sat for a bit the fog would pass. I have learned that this is how the weather works in these mountains, constantly changing moment by moment. If you but waited, the scenery would change like a great work of art that constantly shifted its beauty around. We did not have the time to wait today and with great reluctance I got back into the vehicle to leave for our destination. I looked out into the grayness, excepted my fate, and we moved on. Still, that image of the fog has spoken to me deeply in the days that have followed since this time.

I have battled depression my whole life, and as I get older the depression seems to seep deeper into my bones and being. Its weight bears down on me relentlessly at times. Depression is like the fog I saw that morning at Newfound Gap. It is a fog that rolls in and breaks upon my mind shrouding all the beauty that I know that is around me. Life becomes a ghostly realm where all is gray and the mist of the struggle drips from every fiber of my being. I can’t see where my next step will lead me and I am scared to even move for fear of what might be out there in the unknown. I have come to accept that this depression will never leave me in this life. What I have learned is that depression, like the fog, will eventually roll away, and all I have to do is sit with it until the sun comes along and burns it off once again. The light of a new day will chase away the depression like a wraith in the night.

While depression has plagued me, I have also tasted of light, love, beauty, awe, and wonder in life. I have watched the miraculous birth of my four children. I have gazed lovingly at the perfect symmetry of ancient trees. I have gazed up with wonder and awe at a star strewn sky thinking of the infinitude of the universe and marveling that I am here to bear witness to it. I have been raptured by the sight of brightly blooming flowers. I have sat quietly in the woods and watched a young Buck come up to me across the way and stare deeply into my soul with its black shiny orbs for eyes. I have tasted the goodness and kindness of human souls in my life. I have stood at Newfound Gap and I have seen the beauty that lay across the way when there was no fog to impede my vision.

Here’s the thing, as I stood at Newfound Gap that morning, with the fog dancing over the parking lot, and as my brothers waited patiently for me in the car, there was still a strange beauty to it all. I knew that the beautiful vistas were still out there. I knew because I have seen them before. I have tasted of their wonder enough that the residue of it still lingers within my soul. I could still see what lay beyond the fog in my mind’s eye. This is what faith is I believe. We get a glimpse of the beauty, and though the darkness and the ugliness of life can weigh us down, cloud our minds, and send our thoughts into dark twisted forms, that vision of the beauty can still sustain us. We know what lays behind the fog. I had faith that morning at Newfound gap, even though I could not catch a glimpse of the beauty. It is faith that sees us through when we cannot see. I have tasted the light, the love, and the joy of life. I have marveled at the mystery of the divine. Even though my awakenings are brief, they still imprint upon my soul both awe and wonder. And faith is born.

Depression helps me to walk by faith. It drives me to my knees in my need, and I cry out to the Lord, to that infinite mystery, to a love that I have tasted for myself. A love that has called me a beloved son. Powerless, all I can do is be still and wait. I know the fog will pass. I know that under all that fog lies a deep abiding beauty. The beauty has not left; I just cannot see it at the moment. Strangely, though the fog of my depression is a suffering that seems too heavy to bear at times, I still know there is a light and that beneath the fog is beauty. I have faith. Yes, I have faith. That word actually means something to me now, no longer just a religious cliché. I went to Newfound Gap that day expecting to behold the majestic. What I got instead was the gray dullness of fog. Yet, that was what I needed to see, and I have recognized the teacher that came to give me a great lesson that day. My depression is a gift, a way that leads me to humble myself, to seek out love, forgiveness, grace, and to see by faith. If I will but be still, the winds of the Spirit will eventually blow the fog away so that the Son may shine in the glory of his brightness once again.

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