A prayer to Phoebe

Phoebe (August 28,2005-March 15,2011)

Dear Phoebe,

I have never witnessed greater pain than I did at your funeral on Friday. I felt it in my body. There were times when I could hardly breathe. And Phoebe, I barely knew you. How much worse must it have been for your parents, who loved you more than life itself?

Please stay near them. Be obvious about it. Be clumsy about it as they adjust from the warm tangibility of your physical presence to the wispy subtlety of your spiritual being. Help them know you, not only as the five-year-old girl you were, but as the powerful spirit who loved them so much, that you agreed long ago to draw forth from them greater love, devotion, effort, and courage than anyone thought possible.

For more than two years, they tapped in to reserves that they didn’t know they had in their fight to keep you alive. And now they are empty. There is little left with which they can care for themselves or each other.

They must’ve concluded by now that the source of their strength was not entirely their own. It couldn’t have been, because caring for you in your illness required more strength than human beings typically possess. Assure them now that that source of strength is still there. Show them in a tangible way that you are still there. Remind them that we are still there to hold and support them.

The world as your parents knew it has ended. Help them deal with the absolute sacrilege that life will go on. Help them now to do the most courageous thing of all: to live without you.

Amen

The fear of fear

When I felt fear in the old days, I just felt fear. But since I learned about the law of attraction, which has become mainstream since the movie The Secret came out, things have gotten much more complicated. In a nutshell, the law of attraction means that like attracts like: positive thoughts attract positive things and negative thoughts attract negative things. So, basically, if I dwell on the things that scare the crap out of me, I’ll create them.

Now I’m scared of being scared.

On some level, this strikes me as wrong. Emotions are messengers that bear information for us, and we ignore them at our peril. They must be invited in, heard, and then released. Carl Jung said that what we resist persists, and being afraid to fear seems like resistance to me. If I resist fear, won’t I create what I fear?

Instead of resisting fear, what if I felt it, made a decision about how I’m going to respond to it, and then moved on? Fear motivates us to act like nothing else does, and perhaps I just need to work up the courage to feel and transmute it.

This works for me on a philosophical level, but on a practical level, I hate feeling fear. I have never understood why people go to horror movies.

But hang on a minute. What if my fear is just a judgment? Raising a son brings many opportunities for fear and watching Adrian has often made me wonder how our species survived. When he was younger, Adrian seemed to need to take risks. Life for him was a perpetual if-then loop. If I do this, then what will happen? It was challenging to balance his need to explore with my desire for him to survive his childhood. But he has survived, and all the things I considered risky did not turn out to be fatal after all. I feared for his life and in my fear, I judged many things dangerous that didn’t turn out to be.

Walt Whitman wrote “Be curious, not judgmental.” What if, instead of judging that whatever I fear (and indeed, fear itself) is bad, I were curious instead?

What if?

Oh, hell

My 80-year-old mother and I got into a big argument about hell on Sunday. She’s absolutely certain that I’m going there, and I’m just as certain that I’m not.

Here’s my reasoning:

  1. One of the most important laws of physics is that energy can neither be created nor destroyed. It can only change forms.
  2. I believe that our essential selves–the core of who we are–are made up of energy.
  3. This was made clear to me at the funeral of my friend Jill, who died in a car accident at the age of 16. Seeing her body at the funeral was a shock. Though it looked like Jill, her essential “Jillness” was gone, and all that was left was a shell.
  4. Jill’s death caused my then-fundamentalist Christian faith to crumble. It took me 20 years to rebuild a belief system that made sense to me. But I never stopped believing that Jill’s consciousness had survived the accident.
  5. I concluded that, because a disembodied consciousness (or “soul”) does not have physical senses, you can’t hurt it by hitting, stabbing, or burning it.
  6. So, even if a physical hell did exist, how could it hurt something that is pure consciousness?

There are many other reasons why I don’t believe there’s a hell (more of my journey away from fundamentalist Christianity is described here). But as I said, Mom is just as sure that there is a hell, and that it’s my destiny. There’s a little girl inside me who has always yearned for my mother’s approval, and it hurts to know that the only way I will ever receive it is to become what I am not. I find it difficult to reconcile Mom’s professions of love for me on the one hand with her insistence that I am going to hell on the other.

A few years ago, Mom got not one, but two ulcers. She attributed them to my sister’s and my refusal to accept Jesus as our lord and savior. She was hospitalized, so I called the hospital’s gift shop and asked them to fill up two helium balloons, then write my name on one of them with a permanent marker, and my sister’s name on the other. I asked them to take the balloons up to Mom’s room, then called Mom and instructed her to go outside and let the balloons go. I wanted her to experience the release of that, but she didn’t do it. She asked my brother to go outside and do it for her, saying she’d watch from the window. I don’t know if he ever did. The whole meaning of the ritual was lost.

So here’s take two: A declaration of emancipation.

Declaration of Emancipation

Hear ye, hear ye!
Be it known to all that read this that

[my mother’s name]

is herewith absolved of any responsibility for
the eternal welfare of

Petra Elisabeth Martin

Petra joyfully takes complete responsibility for
her spiritual journey in this life
and for her life thereafter.

Declared on this 30th day of December 2009

_______________________________________

Petra Elisabeth Martin

I don’t know if it’ll help Mom, but it helped me. When my son and I want to let things go, we find big rocks, write what we want to release on them in permanent marker, and throw them off a bridge into the water. It gives us a satisfying feeling of release.

Our New Year’s Eve tradition (in fact, we just did it today), is to conduct a burning bowl ceremony. We write on slips of tissue paper all the things that we want to release, take turns sharing them with each other, touch the paper to the flame of a candle, and then drop the burning paper into a metal bowl. One of the things I burned up today was “My mother’s expectations.”

I’ve fallen, and it takes a village to get me up

While Adrian and I were at an orchard party yesterday, I missed a step and took a header onto concrete. I lay there taking inventory, trying to figure out what body part hurt worst, and people rushed to my aid. I sat up and determined that my right foot had suffered the worst damage. A reflexologist immediately grabbed my ears and applied pressure in spots that help with pain. An emergency physician checked out my ankle, assured me that it wasn’t broken, and prevented a trip to the hospital. The host of the party brought an ace bandage and the physician’s wife, an emergency nurse, wrapped my foot in it. A neighbor brought arnica ointment and tablets, and I’m not exactly sure where the ibuprofen and a Ziploc bag full of ice came from. People helped me walk to a lawn-type recliner that they had placed in the sun for me (I was in shock and shaking), and they made me elevate my ankle and put ice on it.

As I lay on the recliner, I thought about the fact that we were completely out of hay, our goats had nothing to eat, and that I would be unable to go to the feed store after the party to get a couple bales of hay as I had planned. When I mentioned this, a woman I’d never met said that she needed to get a couple bales of hay for her goats, too, and offered to pick some up for me and bring them to our house. (Even here on rural Whidbey Island, it’s rare to be at a party with someone who also has goats, much less someone who has also run out of hay and was also headed to the feed store to get exactly the same thing you were planning to get after the party.)

My fall could’ve been an accident, carelessness, or dumb luck, but if this experience had a message in it, I wanted to hear it. I had literally missed a step. Might that be a metaphor for missing a step in real life? Had I overlooked something? Or maybe I just need to slow down.

Today, I thought of the friends, acquaintances, and strangers who had cared for me and how completely and instantaneously supported I felt. Tears came to my eyes, and I realized that that was the message: shit will happen, but you will get through it with the help of your community.

My foot hurts, but I can walk, and I have learned that I don’t always have to walk alone.

The psychic therapist

I once had a therapist who earned her living as a psychic before she switched careers and became a counselor. Her psychic skills were kind of handy when my ex-husband and I were going through marriage counseling, because identifying and articulating emotions was a real struggle for him. She could just “reach” in, dig around, and “pull out” some emotions for his consideration. When she narrowed down his options that way, he was able to identify how he felt.

Despite our efforts, my ex and I decided to end our marriage. Several years later, I was in a relationship with another man and went back to the same therapist. She insisted that he and I would end up together. But as time went on, it became clear that he was not right for me. Although I shared events, insights, and emotions that led me to believe that we were not meant for each other, she continued to insist that we were. So, I redoubled my efforts and kept trying.

In the end, my emotions and her psychic perspective on things were at such odds that I broke up with the guy and fired her. It taught me an important lesson. As tempting as it is, I don’t look outside myself for guidance anymore. That means no psychics, horoscopes, or other means of predicting the future. But it also means that I now heed my own inner guidance above that of experts, gurus, teachers, clergy, parents, and friends.

This is not always easy, and is something that I have to recommit myself to repeatedly–especially as I bump around in the dark trying to find my way. It is much easier to trust the sometimes loud and insistent guidance of others than it is to listen for that still, small voice inside myself. But I believe it’s what’s right for me. Fact is, I believe it’s right for us all.

Snakes, rocks, and hard places

When I look back on my life, I have often known when it was time to move on because I felt squeezed out of a particular situation. This is how I imagine a snake feels when it needs to shed. I imagine things start feeling constrictive, uncomfortable, irritating, and itchy. At that point, a snake will actually seek out a rock or a hard place and brush its body against it to tear its skin. Then it’ll work at the tear until it’s big enough, find something to catch the skin on, and wriggle out shiny and new.

Snakes shed so they can grow, and because they grow throughout their lives, they shed their skin until they die. I think we shed so that we can grow, too. Today, I realized that I have felt the constriction, discomfort, irritation, and itchiness of a situation that no longer fits. It is time to move on–to wriggle out of this situation so I can emerge into a new one.

If snakes were to look in mirrors (and I’m sure fashionable snakes do), they would see in their reflection everything they will eventually shed. What they shed is their outward appearance, their physical identity, the way they and others recognize themselves in the world. When I have faced sheddings in the past, I have found it impossible to imagine who I’d be without my old skin. Who would I be if I left corporate life to become a parent? Who would I be if I got divorced and raised my son on my own? Yet the skin no longer fit, and I knew it had to come off.

For me, the worst part of shedding is the sense of spiritual disconnection I feel. Before a snake sheds, it is virtually blind for a period of time, because the skin over its eyes becomes cloudy. This I understand, because I have felt blind in terms of my source of inner guidance lately.

A situation that was known and comfortable has become constrictive and irritating. I feel blind to my inner guidance, and am instinctively seeking out rocks and hard places that will help me tear open an escape hatch in this old skin. Seems like a bad thing, but is it? I feel confusion, grief, and a sense of loss around losing something that was known and comfortable. And this spot between the rock and the hard place is painful. But who am I becoming? Freed of my old skin, what possibilities and adventures await me?

This has been a test of your inner guidance system

You know that story about the guy who is in a flood and winds up on the roof of his house to escape the rising waters? Some people in a boat come by and offer to rescue him, but he turns them down, saying, “God will save me.” Then some people in a helicopter come by and offer to help, but he waves them away and says. “God will save me.” Eventually, he perishes in the flood, and when he gets to heaven, he says to God, “Why didn’t you save me?” God says, “Well, I sent you a boat and a helicopter didn’t I?”

This is the position I am in right now financially—sitting on the roof of the house, watching the floodwaters rise, and wondering how I’m going to get out of this predicament.

One morning last week, I finally collapsed a whole page full of money-related goals down to one: “I easily and effortlessly draw $100,000 per year through activities that bring me great joy.” Later that day, I was walking into a store and heard someone calling my name. It was a friend who said that a few people were gathering at a coffee shop next door to talk about a business and asked if I was interested in joining them. I abandoned my trip to the store, told my son where to find me, and joined the discussion. Sitting around the table were five people for whom I have great respect and one person I hadn’t met yet. I figured that any kind of business opportunity involving these people could be interesting and listened as one of them addressed the possibility of easily earning $100,000 per year. And then I heard the words, “network marketing.”

“Shit,” I thought. “Anything but that.”

However, I remembered the story of the guy on the roof in a flood and wondered, “Is this God sending me a boat or a helicopter? Will I one day stand at the pearly gates wondering why God didn’t save me, only to be told, “Well I sent you that network marketing opportunity, didn’t I?”

So I did it. I paid the money and joined up. And then I became restless. My mind raced. I couldn’t sleep at night and when I did, I dreamed about network marketing. In an effort to better understand it, I created a web site to explain it to myself and others. I started telling my story to people and meeting with resistance that mirrored my own. How could I ask people to sign up for something I didn’t understand, believe in, or feel good about myself? The whole subject introduced static into every conversation because of the existence of a hidden agenda.

Finally, it occurred to me: are the negative emotions that I am experiencing a legitimate message from my inner guidance system? Or are they a response to a limiting belief around network marketing that needs to be addressed? I had been assuming the latter. If my negative emotions are a message from my inner guidance system, my only choice (based on years of experience) is to heed that message. If my emotions are a response to a limiting belief, continuing to hold on to it makes no sense, and I need to clear it.

This is the most subtle and sneaky test of my inner guidance system that I have experienced yet. I am sitting on the roof. A boat comes by. I get in. It feels wrong. Now what? How can something dressed as salvation feel wrong?

As little sense as it makes, I cannot stay in the boat any longer. I put full faith in my emotions, ask my would-be rescuers to pull the boat over and get out. They can’t believe it. I can’t believe it.

Yet, here I sit on the bank. And you know what? My mind has stopped racing. I can sleep at night. I can have conversations with friends that have no static in them. Regardless of what happens, I have been true to myself, and that is all that matters. I don’t know whether another boat or a helicopter will come, but I know I did the right thing for me.

Forgiveness: mending the broken truths of resentment

Today it occurred to me that there is no card in the Mixed Emotions deck for “Forgiveness.” So I made one using one of the five blank cards included with the deck.

I realized that I still feel resentment for things that took place long ago, and that forgiveness might be in my best interest because I cannot receive what I want when my hands are tightly clenched around something that I don’t want. I can only receive when I release what I am holding and empty my hands.

ResentfulIf I am holding tightly to resentments toward my ex-husband, for example, can I receive the soulmate that I long for?

If I hold on to feelings of resentment toward a businessman who deceived me, can I receive a working relationship that is based on ethics, truth, and integrity?

If I resent a parent for failing to provide, can I receive providence?

I went all the way back, year by year, and wrote down every resentment I had that needed to be forgiven. I forgave my parents for getting pregnant with my brother three months after I was born. I forgave my brother for being born. I forgave God for the simultaneous deaths of two friends in their teens. I forgave myself for encouraging Dad to go to the hospital, which turned out to be the beginning of his end. On and on.

I wrote about 30 resentments down on pieces of paper–I had no idea that I harbored so many. Then I burned them up one by one and asked my spiritual companions to clear them from every dimension of my being, both physical and non-physical.

I recently read and quickly purchased the book Old Turtle and the Broken Truth by Douglas Wood. A “broken truth” is a truth that is incomplete. In the story, a stone that said “You are loved” was found, treasured, and fought over–but no one knew that part of the stone was missing. The missing piece said “And so are they.” The point being that we are all loved.

Resentments are broken truths. Forgiveness makes them whole.

The illustration, by Kris Wiltse, is from the “Resentful” card, which is part of the Mixed Emotions card deck.

Sebastian

If Death were a restaurant,
And I was seated beside your table,
I’d look through the menu
and then tell the waiter,
“I’ll have what he’s having.”

You couldn’t have ordered it up any better.

Unfortunately, the waiter brought your meal
Forty years too soon.

Sebastian Degen died at age 47
on July 2, 2009

Making peace with fear

Lately, I have been thinking of emotions as messengers. I’ve welcomed many of them–even negative ones.  So far, fear is the only messenger that I’ve wanted to kill. It’s the emotion that I’ve had the most difficulty sitting with and listening to. And as luck would have it, it has been pulling up a chair at my kitchen table often, lately.

What?!” I say impatiently. “Why do you keep coming back?”

“I have a gift for you,” Fear replies.

“A gift? From you?”

“Yes. I will sit here until you respond to me.”

“Well, I’m talking to you. Isn’t that enough?”

“No, you must act.”

I am not in the mood to engage in a dialog with Fear. But I want him out of my kitchen in the worst way, so I decide to humor him and think about all the ways I could act.

“OK,” I say. “I guess I could run away from what I fear.”

“True,” Fear says. “You could literally abandon it, or you could withdraw from it emotionally.”

“I could get drunk.”

“You wouldn’t feel the fear so much then. You could also engage in activities that distract you from what you fear.”

“I could deny that what I fear exists,” I say.

“True. But are those your only choices?”

“No,” I say. “I could attack what I fear.”

“How would you do that?”

“I’d come up with ideas for overcoming what I fear and decide which idea is best.”

“And then?”

“Then I’d implement my idea.”

“How does that make you feel?”

“A little more empowered. I feel less like a victim of fate. By taking matters in hand, I feel more like I’m the master of my own destiny.”

“Are those the ony feelings that come up for you?”

“No. I like brainstorming, coming up with new ideas, and solving problems. It makes me feel creative.”

“That,” says Fear, “Is my gift to you.” He pushes back his chair and gets up to leave.

“Wait,” I say. “Would you like some coffee?”

Afraid Creative

The illustrations, by Kris Wiltse, are from the “Afraid,” “Empowered,” and “Creative” cards, which are part of the Mixed Emotions card deck.