Sunday, December 19, 2010


I'm really getting a lot of mileage out of the great Cheryl Richardson interview with Julia Cameron you've heard so much about here. In fact, after finishing Cameron's The Creative Life, I decided to read Richardson's The Unmistakable Touch of Grace. Now, this is treading into dangerous territory for me. I have to be careful with "self-help" books because they can have a way of really getting me into my head and that's not pretty. Thankfully, a lot of what Richardson writes about in this book is about dealing with exactly that, so I was getting good tips and reminders at the same time some of my usual "stuff" was getting triggered. And there was one passage that was like gold that I want to save here.

But first a little background... This can be a tricky time of the year for me, not only because of the whole sunlight issue, but as a person who has done a lot of spiritual seeking the powerful focus on Christianity at this time of the year can be difficult. I was raised Episcopalian and went to a lovely Catholic school as a child, and I really resonated with the feeling of being in church, the rituals, and the sense of connection with God, but there were also things about it that just didn't ring true for me on a deep level, especially around sin and damnation, heaven and hell.

I've explored Hinduism and its many gods, have taken the Buddhist refuge and bodhisattva vows where there isn't really an external "God", and find myself still feeling like I need to make my peace with the God of my childhood. Even just the other day I was thinking (see, perhaps there's the trouble) about how I need to get clear on this issue and in the pre-dawn darkness a bird suddenly tapped on the window and then hovered there, startling me and stopping my mind. This was so unusual it seemed a powerful symbol, of what I don't know. The mystery, perhaps. The not-knowingness? See, there I am again trying to make sense of it all:)

OK, so that's what I've been mulling over these days. Oh, and have I mentioned that winter came early this year and brought her little ice trick with her, raising another problem I have with this time of year? Panic about transportation. So let's just say I've been right at my edge this week. And then I read this passage in The Unmistakable Touch of Grace, describing one of Richardson's greatest fears, flying:

"Several years later I was on another flight, reading a copy of Harold Kushner's book Who Needs God. Suddenly the plane hit bumpy air. I continued reading, breathing slowly to try and relax. But soon after, the turbulence got worse and the plane began rocking back and forth. The memory of my earlier flight kicked in and I started to panic. I began to pray, asking repeatedly for God to intervene and stop the turbulence so I could avoid a full-blown panic attack. But it only got worse. That's when I started bargaining.

"I began to recite every prayer I could remember from my childhood in the hopes of purchasing my emotional freedom. I was terrified and on the verge of being sick. The turbulence continued. After several minutes, I gave up praying and resigned myself to the fact that I just might die (the ultimate form of surrender). I picked up my book and started reading in an attempt to distract myself from my fear. It was at this moment that I was blessed by the comfort of grace.

"At the exact point where I had left off in the book, Kushner began to describe the kind of relationship most people have with God. He suggested that many of us treat God like Santa Claus, asking for favors or to be relieved from hardship and pain. Instead of asking God to remove our painful circumstances, he recommended that we pray for the courage and spiritual fortitude to deal with them."

Aha! That hit it right on the head for me. And so, using Buddhist phrasing (which is most comfortable for me these days) when I've started panicking about one of the many things that is taking me to my edge, I've started asking "May I be brave." This rings so true for me that I don't even need to "know" who, if anyone, I'm asking for help. And I find my mind is much less concerned with figuring it all out, getting all my spiritual ducks in a row. I think it soothes such a deep fear in such an empowering way, that it puts my frightened mind at ease. And so I can experience grace. Whatever that is:)

PS LOVED The Kids Are All Right. Hooray for flawed human beings and our lovely, messy lives!