Category Archives: spirituality

hold on tight

Jo asked me how I am.

The answer is—really, really great.

In the couple of weeks before my appendectomy I felt a definite shift in my thinking, a definite shift in my approach to the world.  (Then the appendicitis hit and all of July was basically a wash.)  Of course, I didn’t become a different person and I have plenty of neuroses and issues left to sift through, but right now they’re not making me feel like a failure.  Right now I feel like I’ve turned a corner.

A piece of this corner-turning has come from starting to learn the Alexander Technique.  For quite a while my therapist had been suggesting that I take up an activity to help me have better awareness of my body.  She suggested both yoga and the Feldenkrais method and I was trying to figure out something that would work well for me.  Serendipitously, I discovered that a woman from my divorce recovery class is a teacher of the Alexander Technique, which I had never heard of before.  It’s a bit hard for me to explain what it is, but Wikipedia says it is

an alternative medicine and educational discipline focusing on bodily coordination, including psychological principles of awareness. It is applied for purposes of recovering freedom of movement, in the mastery of performing arts, and for general self-improvement affecting poise, impulse control and attention.

During the lessons I’ve had, my teacher will have me sit, stand, or do other basic movements.  She then instructs me (often using light touch) to change my movement or position.  The changes are usually quite subtle, but I have found the sessions quite powerful, even overwhelming.  I often get dizzy, which seems to be a signal that we’re moving too quickly (I never would have thought before that such slight movements could cause a change in my blood pressure, but there you go).  Also, the idea that we’re moving too “quickly” often seems strange, as the changes in movement or position I make are quite slight.

The thing I like the best about my lessons (other than my friend’s giving me a hefty discount in her fee) is how I feel when I leave.  I feel really present inside my body, and have an awareness of my body that does not normally come easily to me.

Another thing I really like about learning this technique is that I am not just learning better posture, but the lessons that I learn about my physical self all seem to be mirrored in the rest of my life, and so I am learning about me.

I could give you a number of examples (and may, in the coming days), but the one I think about the most has to do with how I hold my shoulders, neck, and jaw.  Much of the time I hold everything very tightly:  clenching my jaw, scrunching my shoulders up, tensing my neck.

This is actually the same way that I hold on to the rest of my life.  I’ve noticed this posture in myself most when I am anxious (which comes much more frequently than I ever was aware before), when I feel that something is out of my control, out of my grasp, when I feel the ground shifting below my feet.  I have noticed that this feeling comes many, many times a day.  I hold myself as if bracing for a blow, as if trying to keep all the plates spinning.  And that’s exactly what I’m doing.

In learning to let my shoulders release, my jaw unclench, I have noticed that as soon as I am able to do so, a bit of the angst leaves my belly, my arms feel looser, my heart is lighter.  This has become a physical reminder that I don’t have to hold all the pieces in place, I will be okay if the plates fall, there is no theoretical fist waiting in the wings to wallop me.

My teacher suggested that when I notice that my jaw is tight, to focus on how my feet are stable on the ground, how I am solid in my chair.  I don’t have to hold myself up completely.  The earth is perfectly capable of holding my weight.  It is not all on my shoulders to micro-manage.  If the plates fall and crash, the earth will still be here, holding me up.

all is well

I have been a bit light in the posting the last few days.  I’ve actually started two or three posts that I haven’t been able to finish.  They’re hanging out in the drafts queue right now.

Unlike other times when I haven’t been posting, or have been unable to finish a post, I am doing really well right now.  There’s been this stuff with my sister, but I’ve been learning a lot from it, and have been making some important realizations about myself and why I do some of the things I do.

In general, I have felt a shift in my thinking and have felt much more at peace and much more in touch with my true self.  (I know that probably sounds a bit “woo-woo,” but if I could say it any better, I wouldn’t have so many drafts in the queue! :))

It really feels like this is a really important time of learning for me, but it seems that I’m a bit better at taking in information than putting it out.

So, no worries.  I’m sure I’ll be back to navel-gazing in the written form soon enough.

ETA:  I just noticed this is my 300th post!  Woo-hoo!

ghosts of new years’ past

In case you hadn’t heard, we are right in the middle of the Jewish High Holy Days, also known as the High Holidays.  (Here is a nice, user-friendly introduction, if you are interested.)  I found myself in shul (synagogue) on Saturday, and I was pretty overwhelmed by the experience–not so much the experience of now as the experience of remembering what has brought me to this point.  Hence, this post.

♦My first Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) was the year I was studying about Judaism, before I had converted.  Mr. X was back in his state after spending the summer with me (we were in a long-distance relationship at that point).  I was finally starting to feel familiar with the Shabbat (sabbath) service–knowing the tunes, recognizing more or less the order of things (the synagogue where I went conducted the entire service in Hebrew).  Then came Rosh Hashanah.  Little was I to know that they would change all the tunes and add tons more to the liturgy so that the little I felt familiar with suddenly disappeared.  And instead of meeting in the small library as usual, we met in the big sanctuary, and people I had never seen before showed up, and the services seemed to last forever.  I was less than impressed with all this High Holiday upheaval and was more than ready to get back to business as usual.

♦My second Rosh Hashanah was in Jerusalem.  I had converted, X and I had married, and we went to Israel as part of his school program.  As you can see from that previous sentence, everything had moved really quickly in the previous year, and I hadn’t really had time to process very much of it.  Other things that were going on in my life included my family being pretty upset about my conversion (what with my going to hell and all–they’ve come a long way, baby, since that time), and my graduating with my master’s in social work.  As far as Jewish observance in general was concerned, something I couldn’t really see at the time, but is crystal clear now (thank you, hindsight!)–my religious observance level was 100% determined by X and what he wanted.  Needless to say, I was feeling pretty stifled, pretty suppressed–but didn’t even know it.  X was also very threatened by anything on my part that he perceived as not totally enthusiastic about Judaism on my part.  Along came the High Holidays and their (seeming to me) hyper-focus on “repentance.”  At the time I was carrying around a whole-lotta baggage from my Christian past that hadn’t been dealt with, and the High Holidays were the one time of the year that Judaism felt uncomfortable to me because of this focus.  X, of course, instead of being understanding, or giving me space to work out my own issues from my own past, just piled on the guilt about my not being totally gung-ho about the New Year.  Because, you know, everything else I had done so far wasn’t enough. (And again, I wonder, how could I not see it then?)  So that second Rosh Hashanah was mostly about getting through it.  And a big relief when it was over.

♦Rosh Hashanah, take three.  We were back in the U.S., and Mr. X was completing the last year of his program, after which he would be a full-fledged rabbi.  Based on the previous two years’ experiences, I was not exactly looking forward to RH.  I had just started a new job, and had to take off several (unpaid) days at the start due to these holidays.  I remember hosting a couple of meals–there was always a lot of work to do, but the person I was always worried about pleasing was X.  Things needed to be “just so” for him.  He always had an idea in his mind about how Jewish things should go, and if they didn’t go the way he wanted, well…let’s just say his mood would swing.  Looking back it is so easy for me to see how much I did without really wanting to, how much I did because I was afraid not to, but at the time, I just had a tight feeling in my chest, a feeling of being stuck, though I couldn’t have put those words to it.  If I didn’t really want to go to religious services on Shabbat, how much more did I not want to go on Rosh Hashanah, when I would be trapped there for hours longer than usual, hungry and bored.

♦The fourth Rosh Hashanah was the first year that Mr. X and I were in the town that I’ve referred to elsewhere as “Small Pond.”  He had taken a pulpit job, and we were firmly in the “honeymoon” stage that new clergy often experience with congregations.  A friend of ours that we had met the year we lived in Israel came to lead the musical parts of the services, and having her there was wonderful for me.  I hadn’t gotten a job yet, so I wore myself out cooking and cleaning and we hosted every meal (lunch and dinner) for our cantor friend and her parents.  As for the services, I remember thinking that I hated the High Holidays a little less that year.  Sweeping praise, I know.  This may have had something to do with the fact that X eased off somewhat in his pressure of me at the time (in Jewish things).  I think partly this has to do with the fact that I was pressuring myself so much, he no longer needed to…

♦The fifth Rosh Hashanah…the honeymoon was definitely over.  It was our second year in Small Pond, and we had been trying for several months to conceive.  About a month before RH, I had seen my ob-gyn for my yearly exam, and had received a diagnosis of PCOS.  We were referred to the “fertility specialist” in the practice.  When RH came around, so much was up in the air.  I didn’t know yet that X’s sp.erm analysis would show severely low-mo.rphology.  I didn’t know how long it would take to get a definitive answer about that, even.  I just knew that my worst nightmare had just opened up and pulled me in.  That year, there was another visiting cantor, but not a friend.  Also, X’s parents came to visit for the High Holidays, and stayed with us, so I had less space to deal with my feelings.  There was a lot for me to do, and a lot of emotion running just below the surface.  I don’t remember much of my impressions about the religious aspects of the HH that year.  I just remember being in pain and being scared.

♦The sixth Rosh Hashanah.  Last year.  It was my fifth as a Jew.  Things were hard between Mr. X and me.  I had started getting emotionally healthier, and that meant a lot more saying, “no.”  That meant a lot more trying to figure out what kind of religious observance I wanted to have, for me, not for him.  This last part freaked X out more than anything else.  He was losing his grip of control on me.  I was learning how to take care of myself.  I was learning that I could live without him.  At this point I had not consciously imagined leaving him, though he would throw it in my face and accuse me of planning it (which blew my mind at the time, and I would do anything I could to convince him it wasn’t true–crazymaking).  I was trying so hard to hold myself together and hold my marriage together.  I still didn’t know that it would have to be one or the other, that I couldn’t have both.  It was during the High Holidays last year that I reconnected with the Divine.  I don’t really know how else to describe my experience, but it was an amazing time for me.  Amazing and hard, as I still had to come home with X.  I didn’t really focus on the machzor (prayerbook) or the set liturgy that everyone else was doing.  I stayed in my own head mostly.  There were a couple of images that came to me during that time.  These images gave me peace and I don’t know how I would have gotten through that month, that autumn without them.*

♦This year.  Seventh Rosh Hashanah.  Sixth year as a Jew.  First year on my own.  I had not been wanting to do anything Jewish at all, at all, at all.  I had been starting to wonder about myself, if I was going to want to stop being Jewish.  I didn’t want to want that…

About a month ago, maybe a month and a half ago, I was walking Miss Famous and I heard in my head some of the traditional tunes for the High Holidays.  These are tunes that are only used at this time of year.  I found myself wanting to be in shul for the holidays.  With that desire came a great relief.  I don’t know what my Jewishness will end up looking like, but it is still there, and it will be mine.

So I only went first day RH this year (it’s a two-day holiday).  I didn’t know how I would react, being in shul again, after so many months being away.  I decided that I really like being anonymous, or at least, not being the rebbetzin (rabbi’s wife).  I liked just blending in.  There were tears, and there was relief.  There was no panic attack**, and there was nothing out of the ordinary (unless you count the tears).

*

*

*

*I will talk about these another time.  This post is already so long, I would not want them to get lost in it.

**I’ve never had a panic attack, but I found myself wondering and worrying about my reaction to being in shul again, being in those services again with how connected they are to Mr. X in my mind.

here and now

First of all, a major thank-you to Kristin, who talked me down from the edge of paranoia yesterday.  I’d like to talk more about our conversation another time, because, well, she’s awesome, but I need to devote some more time to it, because, well,  she’s awesome.

Thanks in part to that conversation, but also in part to some thinking I’d been doing, already, I had one of those moments, while watching the fireworks last night.  It was a good moment, but kind of a, “this is my life, right now,” moments.  Don’t know what I’m talking about?  Well, this morning, I remembered a post from the old, defunct blog, that actually talks about this very thing:

I have this kind of default way of thinking about my life that I’ve been trying to resist for a while now.  I seem to always be living in the next step, living in the fantasy of the next day.  So much more of my energy seems to go to tomorrow, or next week, or when X happens, and so much less of it seems to go to today, right now, this moment, my life as it is.

Often, the thing that I see as missing in my life will take on some kind of magical quality.  Kate Harding calls this the Fantasy of Being Thin, but it can be the fantasy of getting married, being rich, having a baby, or just about anything that takes on this quality of “my life will be perfect if only X.”  I remember as far back as middle school, thinking about a classmate of mine, “What does she have to be unhappy about?  She’s got a BOYFRIEND.”  After all, that was all MY life was missing, wasn’t it?  If I had a BOYFRIEND then I would never be unhappy again.  All of my other problems would just fade away.  (Though looking back, of course, this over-focus on a boyfriend was a convenient and safe way to avoid facing some of the real dysfunction and pain in my life at home.)

A while back I started realizing how much I wasn’t living, how much my life was on hold.  I was just waiting for the magical baby to arrive (shortly preceded, of course, by the magical pregnancy).  I think since I got married, all of my energy has been so focused on “when I get pregnant” or “when I have a baby.”  (This, too, has been to avoid facing some pain and dysfunction, but that’s a story for another day.)  Since being married, my professional life hasn’t exactly gone as I would like it to and I haven’t put nearly as much effort or energy into friendships as I used to.  I’ve been lonely, bored, and disconnected.  All of this was ok, though, because pregnancy and baby were right around the corner, I just had to hang in there a little longer.  So I didn’t really put much energy into my life, I just kind of numbed out and hung all my hopes on the magical baby.

I have been learning, slowly but surely, two steps forward, 1.5 steps back, to live my life as it is, not as my fantasies would have it.  This can be hard, as the here and now is often so painful.  Recently I read this piece in Exhale magazine, and it really spoke to me.  The author says:

“No babies are going to solve my problems, or return to me what I feel I am ‘owed.'”

Real life doesn’t start when I get a boyfriend, or get married, or get pregnant, or have a baby.  Though it may be full of pain and dysfunction, real life is right now.

Once again, I have found myself living in a transitory state, living as if this is just an interim period in my life.  And in some sense it is.  But lately I find myself waking up to the world, and realizing (again) that my “real” life isn’t when the divorce is final, or when I get a “real” job, or move out on my own.  It is now, it is here, it is flying past like lightning.  I don’t want to miss any of it.

on ownership

A while back I talked about having a difficult time with the experience of certain things because of the associations that they have for me.  A cigar is not just a cigar if you will.  Or rather, an avocado is not just an avocado.  Nor are olives olives, nor acoustic guitar music…well, you get the idea.  When you’ve made another person’s needs and wants the center of your universe for so long, a lot of material things end up taking on additional significance, as they can seem like the key to domestic tranquility.  At least that was my experience.  Maybe I was just looking for anything to be the key to domestic tranquility, as I certainly didn’t have it.

But I digress.  I was talking to my friend, Cherry, about this tendency to shy away from certain things: foods, books, etc., because they seemed to be too much infused with something from X.  She told me that after her last serious break-up, she couldn’t listen to music anymore, any music, not for a really long time.  We’re talking for years.  The reason?  In her words, her ex “owned” all the music.

Not literally of course.  Cherry’s ex did not have some kind of universal copyright to every song ever written, but, in Cherry’s mind (and partly due to some abuse issues in their relationship) Cherry did not allow herself access to something that could have been an amazing source of comfort for her.  Painful comfort, I’m sure, yet still a comfort.

♦♦♦♦♦

During the six years I was with Mr. X (almost five years of marriage–our anniversary just passed by), he was my teacher.  I don’t mean to say this in a creepy way (though there was that element), but he taught me so very much about judaism.  One thing I will not fault him is his intelligence, and once he devoted it wholeheartedly to learning about judaism, well, he was like a runaway train.  Something I would say about X when we were together was that he either did things not at all, or 150%.  He did not “like” things, he would love them with his entire being–music, food…and judaism.

So, he knew a lot.  And when I was with him I learned and learned and learned and learned and learned.  To be honest, my motivation was often survival (though I could not see this at the time)–to keep his love and to be the super-jewess (which were part and parcel).  But still I learned and learned, and I just soaked it up.  I was a sponge.  Another thing I cannot fault him–he is a phenomenal teacher.  You know if I am saying something so positive about Mr. X, it is true.  He is one of the best teachers I have encountered.  And I had him all the time–at home, in the car, on vacation..  So, I learned a lot.  All the while in a pressure cooker, but all the while soaking up with my spongy brain every nuance I could grasp.

♦♦♦♦♦

As I said:  Cherry’s ex did not have some kind of universal copyright to every song ever written, but, in Cherry’s mind (and partly due to some abuse issues in their relationship) Cherry did not allow herself access to something that could have been an amazing source of comfort for her. Painful comfort, I’m sure, yet still a comfort.

And my ex does not have some kind of universal copyright to every jewish thing ever, but, in my mind (and mostly due to some abuse issues in our relationship) I have not allowed myself access to something that could be an amazing source of comfort to me.  Painful comfort, I’m sure, yet still a comfort.

X had a teacher once, who, when asked permission for something taught in class to be used for teaching somewhere else, simply said, “It belongs to the jewish people.”  As in, it is not mine, I don’t own it, I won’t pretend to have any rights over what you have learned from me.

What X taught me (and I must admit, he did teach me), did not belong to him.  He did not own it.  He was just the conduit.  So I will no longer pretend that he has all the rights over what I learned from him.

He has taken enough.

Show and Tell: one from the vault

Please check out the rest of the class over at Mel’s.  This is the new, official time for S&T, so there hasn’t been a mixup, but I did have to see it on someone else’s blog to remember.  🙂

This has been a very intense week here.  For those who do not normally follow this blog, I finished up telling a pretty intense story (the big Great Escape story).  And Real Life had its own intensity going on, but that is a post for another day.

One thing I did this week was work on my resume.  I had hit some writer’s block, and was wandering around in my old documents for a while and found this prayer that meant a lot to me a long time ago.  The first couple of lines really hit me, especially after being so immersed in my story this week and especially with the direction (or lack of direction) that my life has right now–“I have no idea where I am going.  I do not see the road ahead of me.  I cannot know for certain where it will end.”

I don’t know what your conception of the Divine is.  Mine is certainly very different than when this prayer was so important to me that I saved an electronic copy of it.  Perhaps this prayer will mean something to you, also, whatever your understanding, whatever your path.

My Lord God,

I have no idea where I am going
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.

Nor do I really know myself,
And the fact that I think I am following
your will does not mean that I am
actually doing so.

But I believe that the desire to please
you does in fact please you.
And I hope that I have that desire in all
that I am doing.
And I know that if I do this, you
will lead me by the right road
though I may know nothing about it.

Therefore will I trust you always
though I may seem to be lost
and in the shadow of death, I will
not fear, for you are ever with me
and you will never leave me
to face my perils alone.

Thomas Merton

(Here’s the link.)