Spiritual Winter

spiritual winter1We are reborn many times throughout our lives. With each New Year we grow and change, becoming more than we were. Time and experience alter us physically, mentally and spiritually. Sometimes these evolutions are brought on by joyful happenstance and sometimes they occur through a trial of pain, illness, loss, or grief.

Early last year, my life came to an abrupt halt. My energy left me, I lost all my ambition and hope for my writing and wish for an independent career. I experienced what can only be described as a small death. I couldn’t feel God, I lost faith; both in a higher power and in myself. Life dragged on in a never ending cycle of exhaustion. I thought I knew my purpose in life, but suddenly I was no longer sure. Was I a writer even when I’d stopped writing? Was I a healer even when I felt unable to heal myself? Was I a good mother even when I felt too tired to give the care and attention I used to? Was I still capable of being a good wife or even a fulfilled human being? I felt lost in all these questions.

I was in fact experiencing a spiritual winter. Spiritual winters kill everything you thought you were and everything you thought you believed. They wipe your slate clean leaving you empty and purposeless. My spiritual winter wasn’t depression. Instead it came on my like an illness of body and soul, an exhaustion so complete that the garden of my life was buried under ten feet of ice. But was it a death or a rebirth into something more?

Like grief, spiritual winters stop the natural flow of living. Like a cold snap, they come upon you unexpectedly; changing the way you view the landscape of your life. Everyone will experience a spiritual winter in their life. It may come to you in the death of a loved one, the illness of a friend or in a change so unexpected that at times it seems unendurable. They occur in every culture, in every religion and in every corner of the world. But as unbearable as they seem, they often end with a melting away of old ideologies and preconceptions, making way for a spring-time filled with new and unexpected perceptions. When old beliefs die away our point of view opens, becomes vast and new forms of understanding are able to shine forth.

I survived my spiritual winter by letting go of the idea that, “This shouldn’t be happening.” I chose instead to love what is and to return to what really matters in my life: my family, my beloved friends, my country, my planet and my faith. In truth, I embraced everything that is good about living and I let go of, and took action against, the things that endangered the way of life I love. I prayed, I protested, I wrote congress and the senate and I reached out to those with the power to make a change to better our world. In reaching out I made a difference, I took back my strength and emerged more empowered to act than ever before. And you know what? It worked! I have seen the results I prayed and acted for. I have made connections with people who have the same passions and ideals while expanding my perceptions and awareness of this great universe we live in.

We all suffer. We all endure the trials and tribulations set before us to make our spirits strong. That is why it is so important to be tolerant with strangers while we remember that inside each person a great story is unfolding. For good or bad, we are all waging our own battles with ego, self-judgment and the often heavy realities that come with living. My advice to anyone facing a spiritual winter is to take action, ask for help and comfort, return mentally and emotionally to what really matters in your life and remember that we are all, no matter our beliefs, in this together.

 

With Ease and Grace we move forward in Love.

EE Orme

spiritual winter

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Slaying the Princess to Feed the Dragon

Weight is a huge issue in America. It consumes us, eats us up and devours us whole. Weight consciousness maintains a mind bending strangle hold on every aspect of our lives.  We count calories, workout harder and diet more than any culture in the history of mankind and yet year after year we just get bigger. Our fixation on the waist line has led us to embrace personal betrayal. We have broken away from our own authenticity and turned our backs on self-respect, all in the hopes that we can blend into society’s idea of perfection.

At the age of seven I wanted to be a princess. I had the face, round with large eyes and rosy cheeks, but I lacked that slender physique which said, dainty, graceful, slim and resplendent. Due to my lack of, “dainty,” I lost sight of the pretty, couldn’t see the rosy cheeks or the large round eyes. At the age of seven I embarked on a 30 year career of yo-yo dieting, self-hatred and illness. With eating disorders in tow, I stocked my fridge with “health food,” took hot yoga, took spin classes, weight trained, aerobicized, ran, skied, biked and dieted my way into a ruined metabolism, adrenal fatigue and depression. In my depression I finally realized that I will never be a size two princess. I will never be “dainty.”

I’m farm stock. It’s that plain and simple. My people have been hauling hundred pound sheep and thousand pound cattle through sleet and blizzard, over hill and dale, for time out of mind. I am in no way related to the blue blooded, pampered princess types capable of feeling a pea through a dozen layers of eiderdown mattress. My people were not made “dainty.” We never have had…not once…a “dainty” sixteen inch waist or long “dainty” fingers. We are farm people, built to work, built to survive, built to procreate in large numbers and eat whatever was dumb enough to wander into our way.

Still, I let the princess take my life from me. For thirty years she lived in my head and told me if I just cut more calories, if I just worked out harder and smarter, I could earn the right to live. She told me that I was worthless, big and stupid. I felt defenseless to fight her. I felt alone and unlovable, degraded and disowned. With help I gained the courage to slay the princess, feed my dragon like hunger and rescue my farm girl self from the nether regions of hell.

Now I eat when I’m hungry and remind myself often that nothing’s worth doing if it’s not enjoyable. After a life of hellish self-abusive workouts and diet regiments, it’s nice to find out what feels fun. Over the past year I’ve learned that I still love to work out, I still love to hike, swim and lift weights. I take care of myself and I look and feel better then ever. I’ve turned my back on “dainty.” I’ve chosen instead to feel powerful, athletic, happy, whole and healthy at every size. I’ve pledged to love myself no matter my weight and you know what? That’s OK!

So with a new respect for myself and women as a whole I have begun my fourth novel, a book about a big beautiful farm girl who’s relationship with God, clarity in being and love of authenticity, is unparalleled. I’m writing Marie-Celest for all my fellow Farm girls. God built some of us bigger and stronger so let’s stop starving away our God given strength.

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Cultivating Silence

I love silence. It’s a rare and beautiful thing. Silence eludes me at times but is easily cultivated once I let go enough to let it wander free. I love drifting through my silenced house with nothing to do. It’s these empty spans of nothingness that feed my soul in a profound way. I put on silence like an old coat, one that holds me close with its friendly warmth. I like the way silence buffers away the complicated storm swept world as it soothes my mind into quiet order.

In those rare moments when silence is accompanied by nothing to do I invariably finger a book I have no intention of reading or better still I pet my cat and break silence into a raucous flow of vibrational joy. My cats purr is deep and throaty. It is a cultivated purr won from silence, the silence of never having known love. That was not a nice silence. My cat has the purr of a feral cat dumped high on a hill top farm. It is the purr of courage which sings, “I dared to trust and in trust found love.”

Sometimes in my silence I contemplate at my toes. I have brave toes. I like to think of all the places my toes have led me. To the crib where my baby boy slept, to the door of my mother’s house, to the airport where together, toes and I boarded a plane. Finally I like to think of the moment my toes stepped to the top of Wearyall Hill. In this place the silence listens, builds and grows into a sort of spiritual wonder I can scarce find words to express.

One of the sweetest silences I know is barn silence. That’s right…barn silence. I have known barns filled with the slow breaths of big horses and the silent swoop of swallow’s wings. I have cupped my hands to catch gold bright dust particles suspended for a moment in the gleaming perfection of sunset; my horses quietly chewing in their darkening stalls. Barn silence is the best silence because it is filled with contentment. It whispers, well done, everyone is stalled, blanketed, fed, happy and safe. You’ve done your job, your free to find your bed but linger a while because contentment like this only comes to rose sniffers, day dreamers and those who understand and love the richness that comes with the knowledge that all is right with the world.

Silence gives rise to contemplation, the birthplace of epic daydreams. Epic daydreams become manuscripts upon which I labor hour after hour day after day. I nestle down happy with the certainty of my well spun plot, the depth of my characters,  enjoying the peace of knowing that everything will end as I wish it. What if life could be as conveniently orchestrated?

In Silence I disconnect from the global mind, allowing myself to once again become unique to my surroundings. In this great disconnect, I go off-line into silence and am again the girl I was, quiet and shy, no longer forced to brave a world which feels too big.

In silence I hear my heartbeat. In silence I’m glad I’m alive. In silence I am able to set aside my humanity, drink in the sublime and let go of all the petty rages which injure only me. In silence I am home, I am free and I am at peace because silence asks for nothing. It simply gives me space to be.

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What Phillis Wheatley Taught Me

Phillis Wheatley came into my life pressed between the pages of a rather lack luster anthology. I was twenty-one when I first sat down in my American Literature class ready to be thoroughly educated. My professor was young and handsome. He wore a tweed jacket with elbow patches and I knew that we would have great discussions that would change my life. I was right. My interactions with him would change my life.

The only Wheatley poem my anthology contained was the short but controversial,

On being brought from Africa to America

‘TWAS mercy brought me from my Pagan land,
Taught my benighted soul to understand
That there’s a God, that there’s a Saviour too:
Once I redemption neither fought now knew,
 Some view our sable race with scornful eye,
“Their colour is a diabolic die.”
Remember, Christians, Negroes, black as Cain,
May be refin’d, and join th’ angelic train.

I read the poem with understandable concern. My white Gen-X background in no way prepared me for a woman who spoke with gratitude on having been taken from her family at the age of 7, sold into slavery at age 8 and then named after the slave ship which transported her. How she ever survived the long voyage aboard “The Phillis,” no one knows.

I sat in shock listening to my professor discuss the hardships of her life in blasé tones. He furthered the insult by saying that Wheatley’s poem was ironic. My indignation was instant. Nowhere in her words could I detect irony. I heard a fragile voice, as gentle as moonlight, singing out an ideology forced on her through hardship, a new and vengeful God coupled with the tortuous cruelty of slavery. Surely, no one with a heart could read this poem and honestly believe that Wheatley’s poem was ironic. Slowly I raised my hand, stated my case and flatly refused to back down.

My professor believed that his word was the last word on all subjects literary. My refusal to understand that Wheatley’s poem was ironic angered him so much that he began yelling “ironic” at me every time our paths crossed: In the hall, out on the green, in the parking lot. My reply to each and every one of his attacks was to simply say, “sincere.”

At the end of quarter, after turning in every paper, after aceing every quiz and test I received a D-. The girl who sat opposite me never turned in her papers, missed tests and didn’t read the assigned texts but was shocked to receive an A. I approached my professor, I stated that he’d switched the grades and he replied, “How very ironic?” Yes it was ironic that I should fail this simple class with my strong English background. Yes it was ironic that I should fight for a defenseless black poetess, and yes it was ironic that I, a woman, was forced to defend my belief before an empowered white male. I went to the Dean, I filed my complaint and nobody listened.

So this is what Phillis Wheatley taught me. She taught me that even when you’ve been bullied, brainwashed, stomped on and threatened you have to keep on speaking what your heart tells you is right. Since failing American Lit. I have become a lover of Wheatley’s poetry. In her words I find sweetness, beauty, and a refinement not of this world. Her voice is more tangible to me now than any grade. My soul is strengthened by her poem On Virtue. My love of art grows in her poem To S. M. A Young African Painter, On Seeing His Works. My favorite of her poems is simply entitled,

On Imagination.

Imagination! who can sing thy force?
Or who describe the swiftness of thy course?
Soaring through air to find the bright abode,
Th’ empyreal palace of the thund’ring God,
We on thy pinions can surpass the wind,
And leave the rolling universe behind:
From star to star the mental optics rove,
 Measure the skies, and range the realms above.
There in one view we grasp the mighty whole,
Or with new worlds amaze th’ unbounded soul.

Phillis is one of the reasons why I write about silenced women. Her history is part of why I will always take up a cause my heart recognizes as pure. Phillis could not speak out against slavery when she herself was enslaved but read again On being brought from Africa to America and notice how gently she presses the truth that we all have the right to find grace.

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Locating your Authentic Self

Locating your Authentic Self is an important step towards relational intimacy. It is impossible to experience deep sustaining love if you are hiding behind a role. In life we misplace our true identity behind labels and ideas that obscure the person we really are. Removing the layers of pretense and fear driven identity can be an intimidating undertaking. Only through authenticity can you find freedom, joy and true love.

Fake identities manifest through fear, loneliness and a need to please, protect or be accepted. These labels come from parents, siblings, society, educational titles, or they may be self-applied. Labels start small but they quickly take on a life of their own, crippling their host’s ability to live authentically in the process. False identity states: I am not a whole person until you know this fact about me. Or, I wouldn’t be good enough for this moment if you knew the real me.

My most destructive false identity came with childhood. I was told that I was, drifty, irrational, difficult, bossy, too sensitive and controlling. These labels grew into, Bitch and finally Crazy Bitch, a title I took to with zeal. I wore it like battle armor, ready to shred my life and my family. Being Crazy Bitch, offered me a way to escape the permanent victim hood I was raised in.

When my husband first asked me out I said, “You don’t want to date me, I’m crazy.” Was this my truth? At the time I thought it was. After years of being labeled, of rebelling, and of being labeled again, I developed an identity that said I was crazy, untrustworthy and mercenary. He looked into my eyes and said, “You’re not crazy.” I remember how sad I felt for him. I knew that at some point I would shred him, break him, hurt him the way I had my family. I overcame my destructive false identity and have a healthy authentic marriage because of his love, trust and support.

In my book Magdalena’s Shadow, I introduce my audience to Coco, a girl who struggles with finding her true identity. Her story begins under the labels: idiot, unlovable and crazy. As the story progresses her labels grow to encompass: model, single mother and whore. Coco could succumb to these labels but like so many of us she strives to overcome the labels she was branded with. Guided by a strict code of personal integrity, Coco begins a compelling search for personal freedom, self-worth and lasting love.

Freedom is yours when you rise above unwanted roles and other people’s beliefs about what you should be. Sit down and list out the roles which you identify with and ask yourself, “how does this role make me feel?” Question, “who would I be if I didn’t believe this about myself?” Listen carefully to your heart’s answers. Be still with your authentic self. Take time to bond with the feeling of just being you, even if only for a moment. Stripping away the layers of false self can feel scary. It helps to understand that the false self has no integrity, is incapable of lasting love and lives wholly outside of intimacy because intimacy cannot be achieved in the presence of a lie.

Literature Changes Lives

You are what you read. What a powerful statement! When you lose yourself in good literature, you are doing more than reading an excellent novel, you are sympathizing with the character; you are melding your own thoughts and self-identification with theirs, even if just for a moment.

Geoff Kaufman and Lisa Libby of Ohio State University found in a study that readers bond with protagonists to such a degree, that for a time, the reader takes on the emotions and beliefs of the protagonist. This process is called “experience taking.”

When I first began reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s, Eat, Pray, Love, I couldn’t stop crying. There was something so raw and gutting about her depression, entrapment and lack of self-awareness that I could no longer separate my own pain from hers. There was something about Liz’s character that made me confront my own long hidden suffering?

My heartache stemmed from the reality that I had let my most cherished dreams slip away. I was a wife when I meant to be a scholar, a mother when I’d planned to travel and a depressed shut-in when I’d meant to find my feet and lead a full life. I felt pain because of all the things I hadn‘t done. Two chapters into the book and like Liz, I  wanted a divorce. Four chapters in and I ended a long held friendship. By the time Liz arrived in Italy I was crying through every sentence because I felt trapped, suffocated and alone. If it were not for Liz’s distinct voice guiding me on I may have remained stuck in that place of regret and misery forever.

I cannot easily describe the evolution that took place within me but for some reason I began to heal somewhere between India and Bali. Somewhere during that mental trip my eyes opened to the reality of my life. In Bali I found peace for the first time. I saw where I stood and began to value all that I had accidently achieved in my mismanaged life. I had a husband, a son, and a home where I was unconditionally loved. So what had been so wrong for so long? The answer is…me. My thoughts and behavior, my idea of what life should have been, got in the way of what life was.

Eat, Love, Pray changed my life because it changed the way I saw my life. Now I am on track to achieve my dreams while I love and appreciate the life I’ve built. Could I have made my fresh start without Liz Gilbert? I really don’t know. What I do know is that literature is powerful. It gives a writer the chance to open minds or close them, to take their readers on a life altering journey for the better or for the worse.

So I ask you fellow writers to please be careful with the minds you handle. Words are powerful and they can bring light to a shadowed consciousness or just heap on more darkness.

Literary Betrayal

There is no rule which states that a novel or short story should end happily. Many of the greatest literary works left their audience in despair with their closing sentence. Life is a story and often times that story is so rooted in pain that a happy ending is not an option.

I recently read a trilogy so steeped in tragedy that by the end of book three I felt emotionally gutted. I’ll let you guess the name of this trilogy. What troubled me most about this trilogy was not its despair based premise or continual sacrifice of innocence and decency but the shock and awe tactics used by the author in order to maintain the high octane pace the writer had naturally achieved in the first book. This blatant use of shock brought forth the question: “What does a writer owe her audience?”

We as readers depend on authors to see main characters through to their natural end. If a well-developed character should happen to die that death should be noted not disregarded as if it were only the death of inconsequential extra. The blatant brushing aside of a beloved characters life is cold and cruel because it destroys the readers faith and trust in the writer. A well-developed sympathetic character who is killed without the necessary pause for grief and reflection leaves the reader feeling injured and betrayed. At no point should shock value replace the need for plot and character development.

Perhaps it is our lack of attention span which has led so many popular writers to gut their audience and tear away the fabric of the plot in order to keep modern readers reading. Nevertheless, a compelling book should have strong well defined characters, a sweeping plot with many twists and turns as well as description and flow. Characters should not act, “out of character,” and plot should not be sacrificed in order to build a path from one disturbing scene to the next. We as writers owe it to our readers to take them on a journey. The journey may be harrowing, grief filled and agonizing but it is the duty of the writer not to victimize her reader with one shock after another just to keep them hooked. As your guide we writers may lead you to the edge of the chasms of emotion but we should never toss you over indiscriminately just to see you fall.