50 Shades of Ego

shadesWhen my oldest child was born my mother would look at her and say crazy stuff like, “Babies are just pure selfishness! They’re so sinful; all they can think of is themselves.” It was this mindset, based on her ‘Christian values’, that formed the standard in which she raised me. I know that’s convoluted, and I in no way wish to place blame, but it gives some context for how my formative Christian experience shaped and affirmed the false self in me.

To begin with, my egoic specialness was identified with being sinful and inherently bad. I’m almost certain my mother thought I was the spawn of Satan. As I grew older, my ego discovered that it could also be special in the church if, instead of being pure selfishness, it became outstanding Christian goodness. I became a youth leader and eventually a pastor’s wife. In the Pentecostal circles I inhabited as a young person there could be no higher spiritual achievement for a young woman than to be married to a pastor. I had arrived.

And thus, my false self’s passive need to be special symbiotically joined the church in myriad ways. Oh, the (mis)adventures we’ve had.

Today, I find myself re-entering the context of church after a sabbatical. In my time away I explored other mystical paths and integrated new perspectives into the growing expansiveness of my spiritual repertoire. I’ve spent time in communities with no defined doctrines or sacred agendas, just simple unconditional love and acceptance.

I’d somehow drawn the conclusion that upon re-entering the church I would easily assimilate my fresh understanding into church life and something new and wonderful would just kind of instantly manifest for me.

I could not have been more wrong.

As a matter of fact, had I known before hand what I was getting myself into, I don’t think I would’ve agreed to Jesus’ invitation back into ‘the fold’! That’s not to say I was tricked; I’ve been a willing participant with the freedom to leave at any time.

My biggest challenge has been that my false self or ego is still trying to fill its old role of being special within the context of church. When I attend on Sunday morning or join up with a midweek small group, ego arises in me, nuanced with various shades of judgment, anger, frustration and self-righteousness. Ugly, ugly, ugly. It’s as if a mischievous toddler just walked up to my beautifully crafted masterpiece of ‘enlightened self’ and scribbled all over it with a crayon.

Could it be that the Divine is gently proposing I rework my sanctimonious showpiece, starting with a thick coat of primer? Seems so.

Jesus, give me the courage to walk in the humility you so graciously demonstrated, to be open to the reshaping of your Spirit in me, not clinging to what I’ve created myself to be, but in the openness and vulnerability of my True Self in you. Let me be a freshly primed canvass. This time, you be the paintbrush.

“Love does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

Nuance

Transformed by the Father’s Love

fatherchildSome people grew up in families where their parents were able to convey enough love, acceptance and wisdom that the children grew up to be relatively functional adults. Other families, like mine, came from a heritage of victimhood and rather than growing up empowered, we entered the world of adulthood feeling like orphans. From there on, we either spiralled down the path of being a chronic victim or chose the path of awakening to who we truly are in God.

Both options are painful. While the path of victimhood is destructively painful, the path of awakening is productively painful.

If it’s going to hurt anyway, why not make it count?

For many years now I’ve been on a journey of being re-parented by Abba (Father God). Having my biological, mentally ill father living with me has made this a very interesting process. We have both lived like orphans; believing that we will never really be taken care of. Often, when I start to make progress in my healing and create stronger boundaries, I trigger the orphan in my father and he quickly becomes extremely defensive and verbally lashes at me. He has no ability to empathize and the conversation always morphs into him spotlighting all the ways that he is a victim of me. This is followed by him literally listing off how I am financially indebted to him. It’s twisted, but it follows a rhythmic pattern we’ve shared since I was too young to remember. Not being entirely healed of my own victim, I often react to this rejection instantly.

My father and I went down this road again recently, but something was different this time. I still reacted inside. However, instead of firing right back at him, a new sense of self-awareness woke up in me and I just turned around and retreated to my room. I now know exactly how to enter into that place of complete abandon into Abba’s Love. It’s the place I’ve yearned for and worked a life time to find. It’s not that I didn’t find it when I was younger, it’s just that I never knew how I got there, so I couldn’t find my way back intentionally. Things have changed.

In the scriptures Jesus taught that to follow him we must be willing to ‘hate’ our mother and father. There’s a lot written about what that means exactly and whether it’s just symbolic language. For me, entering into the true Love of God has required me to release all attachments I have to needing the love of my parents. I used to project the deficiencies of my parents onto my relationship with Abba. In time, and with much inner healing, most of that has transformed for me. Just one thing remained…

I heard a teaching by Arthur Burk explaining that some people actually need to heal a wound of being abandoned by God. What?! No way. I’ve been abandoned by a lot of people in my life, but never by God!

That’s been my story and I stuck to it for many, many years. Then one day something triggered me deeply and I descended right down into the black hole of complete and utter despair that I felt way too often as a child. I was reminded how I cried out to Abba to pick me up and hold me…and sometimes He never came. If you’ve been there, you’ll know it’s one of the worst pains you’ll feel in this life.

Undeniably, I have felt abandoned by Abba.

It wasn’t until I could admit that this was true that I finally found (and remembered) my path straight to the Father’s heart. The Love of Abba is so radically different than anything I’ve ever know with my earthly parents that the comparison between the two has just stopped all together for me.

Now I know how to return to Love and it has completely empowered me to make some big changes that I never had the confidence to implement before.

Thank You Abba for Your complete and unending Love.

Rhythmic

Fearless Authenticity

basejumpWe were talking about Sunday school experiences in our childhood. One person contributed that he didn’t spend much time in Sunday school because he was often kicked out. There’s nothing like somebody else’s story to help trigger memories of your own…

As a child, I was kicked out of everything: school, music groups, kids clubs, Sunday school. You name it. The reason? I lived out of my truth regardless the cost. In Christian school we were awarded a ‘character trait’ poster at the end of every year. I got ones like ‘fearless’ and ‘thorough’. I can still remember the sound of the entire audience laughing when they called mine out. I guess you could say I had a reputation.  Nonetheless, the price was high in the 80’s when corporeal punishment still existed in schools and churches. A much worse fate awaited me at home. (trigger warning)

I grew up in a family where babies were beaten for crying or waking up at the wrong times and children were dragged out of their beds in the middle of the night for violent reasons. For me the solution was simple, learn to dissociate from the body and live my truth anyway. The result was a lot of hiding under the basement stairs and spending time in the forest. It was in those places where I would meet Jesus and experience Holy Spirit in ways that were more real than anything I encountered in the physical world.

As the years progressed, I learned to live with the incongruency of outer compliance because I finally caught on that my chances of survival were greater if I kept my soul hidden. I’ve never disconnected from Holy Spirit. Jesus has always been a faithful companion and guide. The pure, unconditional love and intimacy I’ve experienced with the Father is not worthy of words.

My biggest challenge in adulthood has been returning back to that place of complete and wild abandon in my spirit. It’s there. I feel it in the forest, on my mountain bike or with people I trust deeply. But much of the time I withhold. A lot. I don’t want to be perceived as rebellious or a heretic or worse. I am not fearless like I once was.

The western world, with all its controlling institutions, has not made space for people like myself…and perhaps you also. Maybe you’ve felt it though; a growing dissatisfaction amongst the intuitive masses. Many of us are no longer content with just wandering in the forests or hiding behind our blogs.

It’s not easy going into the places that make me feel uncomfortable, the places where I’m constantly confronted by the battle between my ego and my spirit. While I’m fairly good at helping others with their issues, I really don’t know how to share my true self with people that live out of a different paradigm than I do.

The path I’m on is certainly not easy, but the way for my children is somewhat easier. My kids have always had the freedom to live from their truth in my home. It might seem unconventional and it’s definitely anti-institutional, but we’ve made it a priority that they always lead with their human spirits and tune into Holy Spirit. Their egos come up with some pretty interesting stuff too, but how can you learn to distinguish between the two if you aren’t given the freedom to make mistakes in a safe environment?

Holy Spirit works in weird ways that I’m quick to judge as ‘wrong’, especially in other people’s lives. Keeping my mouth shut and allowing Spirit to do its thing in others, and even more so in myself, is a lesson I’m doomed to repeat. God grant us grace to love and forgive ourselves that we might be empowered to do the same for others.

Sound

Emptying: the Path to Fulfilment

refiners-fireMost mystical traditions teach an ascension path to oneness with God. The premise is to conserve the universal life force (prana, chi etc.) within oneself and engage in practices that enhance awareness of the Divine.

On the contrary, Jesus demonstrated a very counter-intuitive way of transcending the egoic trappings of this world. Rather than focusing on protecting and preserving his spiritual life force, he gave it away. Throughout the gospels we see him extravagantly pouring himself out. He loved. And he loved. And he loved.

Jesus consistently taught that the way to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven is through the letting go of earthly attachments and living in the Spirit. This approach to spiritual formation takes the flesh and spirit through different types of ’emptying’ experiences.

Accepting the Path

I once belonged to a community where everyone had their tidy little lives set up for plenty of peace, rest and an abundance of alone time to ensure that they were engaging in proper self-care. Most of them didn’t have kids.

After a while I began to seriously feel like I didn’t fit in. I meditated in my bedroom with the walls rattling as droves of children ran by, read enlightening books in the tub to ensure a valid excuse for non-response and practised deep breathing exercises in the 5 minutes of ‘alone time’ between dropping a kid off for an activity and arriving back at home.

Something about my life just didn’t mirror what my friends were experiencing in their tranquil, self-focused journeys. Instead of preserving my life force, I was constantly giving it away by caring for my family and others. My teachers criticized what I was doing, saying it was misguided.

Here’s the deal: you cannot be the sole support caregiver of 4 children plus attend to the needs of a sick parent and not give yourself away. God doesn’t put us on a path and then make it impossible to follow. No. I knew I was doing what was right for me, I just didn’t understand how it all fit together.

Letting Go

Often, I don’t realise how much I pour into others or how much they pour into me. It’s a lifestyle I embrace and most of the time it’s pure joy to love and serve. In giving,  I also receive. But sometimes my flesh gets caught in a downdraft and I crash.

For instance, lately I’ve been feeling increasingly weary and worn out. I thought I’d be real smart and responsible around that and finally book a weekend off for myself, a retreat where people would minister and pour into me a lot. The retreat I was to attend would be free, which was perfect. I made my plans. Got all my ducks in a row.

Just as I finally let my mind begin to anticipate what I perceived as much needed time away, I was sent an email that said, “sorry, we actually don’t have room for you this time.” And that was it…my flesh had a tantrum.

Letting go of egoic attachments has got to be the most agonising experience of emptying in this temporal existence. There always seems to be a reason why I’ll die or go insane without the person or thing I think I need. Nevertheless, it’s essential for the ego to feel abandoned before it will acquiesce to Holy Spirit.  It must be allowed to cry and argue and bargain and feel completely forsaken if healing is to occur. David demonstrated this masterfully throughout the Psalms.

Refining

Here’s where it gets good.

The scriptures talk about the Refiner’s Fire, a process where gold is repeatedly melted down to dispel its impurities. Modern processes use heat, acid and a variety of other harsh chemicals to achieve the same end. It apparently smells real bad too. The resultant product is pure, with enormous value and function.

My fleshly meltdowns are like that; ridiculously intense, ugly processes that unhinge me from my earthly attachments so that I can be free to enter into unity with the Father. When I let go of the illusion of egoic fulfilment, Abba opens his arms so wide that He swallows my little world up whole and for a transcendent holy instant there is nothing but pure Love. Its absolutely indescribable.

If you’ve experienced this, you’ll know it’s worth the existential crisis. If not, I dare you to let go…to allow your soul to purge itself in the sacred safety of Divine love.

It’s impossible to stay in a funk after an experience like that.

Criticize

Hidden Toxicity: Forgiving the Institutions That Hurt Us

treeWhen you think of healing and forgiveness do you think of it primarily in the context of relationships? I do. Psycho-therapeutic approaches, holistic living philosophies and the Scriptures all tend to focus on finding wholeness through the repair work we do with others. I would agree; we heal in relationship. However, I’ve recently realised that I’ve overlooked an entire area of healing in my life. I couldn’t see the forest for the trees.

Having grown up in a severely abusive home and community, I’ve attributed my woundedness to the gross error and negligence of my parents, teachers and church leadership. While it’s true that people were the ones doing the hurting, there was something much bigger that created the framework in which all that pain occurred. It was what I perceived as the religious institution of the Christian church. In objectifying the church, I’ve not recognized how insidiously my unconscious bitterness, resentment and blame has been festering toward it and how this is affecting my life.

In my young experience, the Bible was used to justify inhumane actions. Attending church made you good even if your behaviour spoke differently. Religion gave adults the authority to destroy the souls of children and rob them of their creativity, passion and innocence.

So while I feel like I’ve done quite well with healing myself in the context of relationship, I’ve finally been able to see how my toxic perspective on the church has been holding me back from finding true freedom in other areas of my life. The task of forgiving the errors of a ‘thing’ rather than a person seems daunting to me. It’s not as if those structures can reciprocate my desire for reconciliation. Or can they? Or do they need to?

Social structures are the products of the minds that create them, nurture them and sustain them. And behind those minds are people. I don’t know them. I don’t know their intentions. Much of Christianity, as we know it today, was formed around decisions made 1600 years ago. Yes, I’ve explored and questioned the events that led to its origins. None of that understanding does me any good anyway. Understanding is not required for forgiveness to take place.

Forgiveness is something I do for myself. Reciprocity is not a co-requisite. Forgiveness is a shift in my state of mind from perceptions that held me back to perceptions that set me free. A frequent side-effect is that the forgivee is also set free, but this isn’t a requirement.

People make errors, individually and collectively, for reasons that we cannot truly comprehend. They play their roles and we play ours. For me the question cannot be ‘why’, but rather, ‘what now?’

‘What now?’ involves the gentle guidance of Holy Spirit and the application of Jesus’ unconditional love. Can I forgive that deeply and love that big? Yes. The only question that remains is will I?

Yes.

 

 

Recognize

Tethered to Love

heart-treeOne of the best things in life is when a scent transports me back to a comforting memory. I especially savor the moments when I’m whisked into a holy instant of unconditional love and acceptance. Do you know what I mean? I hope you do. It’s that place where time is suspended and the soul is lovingly held in the arms of the Divine. It’s where I’m not good or bad, just completely loved. It’s amazing to think that a smell can do all that!

Sometimes, though, an odour provokes a primal response in me so overwhelming that I get sucked into a black hole of hopelessness and despair. Feelings of anger and rage begin to surface and memories that I try to avoid show up uninvited. What do I do?! Do I feel deeply or do I run away and slam the door on a healing opportunity?

For years I’ve been the queen of distraction when this comes up for me. I read, do the dishes, take a shower. I’m very good at shifting my state of mind into a more positive place, which is a good skill, but not when it’s used as a form of avoidance.

I’ve finally learned to allow myself to descend into that black hole, aware that I’m tethered to the infinite love of my Divine Parent. I can allow the hurt and rage to purge itself knowing I can’t get stuck because I have a lifeline back to Love.

Now, I didn’t always know or believe this and there was a time when I would get stuck in the black hole. I needed real, live people in the form of counselors or healers to join me and teach me how to tether myself back to Love. If you find yourself in this position, then please know you are exactly where you are meant to be on this journey. Allow yourself to be guided and nurtured by others as you heal and grow.

Wherever you find yourself today, may you be blessed to always find your way back to Love.

Scent