My Mustard Seed

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If you had bumped into me seventeen years ago you would have met a deeply depressed person. I was sick and tired of existing and I wanted off this rock. My level of despair was paralyzing. So what to do when you feel washed up at twenty-four? For me the answer was…a hypnotherapy class?

I remember walking into the classroom (a remodeled second story room over the garage) and wondering why in the hell I was bothering. My PTSD was so bad at this point that my anxiety came over me in waives, crushing me with panic attacks so severe that I often felt as if I was dyeing moment by moment.

Hypnotherapy class was…different. I met neat people, I learned about meditation, trance work and how easily humans are lead through the power of suggestion. (We are predictably irrational creatures) I also learned what manipulation looked like and how to identify it instantly. I heard other stories of suffering and felt my heart open little by little to the reality that suffering is universal.

Until then I’d believed that the people I’d met throughout my life were all living “normal,” “productive” lives. I’d honestly thought that “normal” was the universal experience. I had bought into the assertion that I was not a “normal” girl because life felt scary 24/7 and that made me a freak. I believed I was the “late bloomer”, the “overly sensitive homebody” who would never “get a life.” I believed what I’d been told and my belief in my total “failure to thrive” only seemed to confirm my future as an insane baglady   and underpass occupant. Confused, sad, and desperate, I went to our teacher and requested a private therapy session.

At the beginning of the session I prepared myself for a hoax, a well woven fraud. Even though I’d paid for the class and the session, I still did not believe in all this hypnotherapy crap. I wanted to desperately, but I was too jaded for hope, too angry and rebellious for faith.

The trance part was easy. Count down from 25, (I could do that). Imagine yourself in a garden (easily done). Now ask your spirit guide for guidance, (Hellooo…?) No one came. I stood in my idyllic garden, adrift in a silence where no one answered my call.

“So what’s coming up for you?” My teacher asked as I lay there looking over fields of poppies and tulips.

“I’m alone,” I whispered dolefully, “utterly…alone.”

“What message is your body sending you?”

“Pain,” I said, “the usual heavy cold pain.”

“Go into it,” she said.

In the next half hour, I wandered through every dark memory, every lonely moment of my life, every section of violence, stupidity and pain I’d ever experienced until I was so drained I couldn’t feel anxious, fearful, or depressed. I felt empty, abandoned and for the first time in my life I felt enraged by the injustice of existence.

“Now stand in your garden and ask for guidance,” my teacher said. I stood amongst my flowers, glared at the soft sunlight and asked, “Why all this suffering? Why all the pain? Why can’t we all be happy?”

Light comes in many levels of brightness. The light that answered me that day was warm, it was loving, it was everywhere all at once. It offered peace and (for me… maybe not for you) it took the shape of Jesus.

I was raised a sort of Christian. As a baby I was christened in the Mormon temple, as a girl I went to Unity with my parents and as a teenager I went to every church I could, sampling religion like chocolates from a box. At eighteen I was a Buddhist, at twenty an agnostic, at twenty-four I was lost.

Nothing prepared me for the presence of the one man I had never wholly given credence too. Nothing prepared me for the love and comfort he offered or the words he spoke, “What you see as suffering, is in fact a lesson. There is only love.” I felt my rage melt away. I thought of the suffering of Job and understood, really understood how God never left him, how he never left me, and how he is here for all of us. I understood that we are here to reach for the light even when we are surrounded by darkness. I understood that God is our mustard seed; even when we think his love has slipped through our fingers, it’s still there holding us close.

I’m not going to thump you with a bible. I don’t believe I’m right and you’re wrong. I believe in unconditional love, in compassion, in answered prayers no matter what language they are spoken in or to which God they are uttered. I have learned to welcome this world of experience. I accept my own life lessons knowing that some lessons come as soft as angel wings while others cut our throats while refusing to let us die.

So be brave in existence. Be true to your soul’s purpose. Savor your life. Be quick to find the lesson within the experience.  No matter the pain you may be in or how dramatically violent the world around you seems, in the end we are all learning, we are seeking to understand the lesson in the experience, and we are all cradled in loving hands which will never let us fall. We are all the children of a loving creator who is as eager to expand our souls through experience as he is to welcome us home when the lesson comes to a close.

 

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Hefelton Farm: Part 11 of Rain on a Cloudless Day

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Mommy and Daddy are going. My sister cries a little, her tears turning to a forlorn silence. They are not going in a bad or permanent way but rather on a three day marriage retreat to “work” on how to be married. I don’t understand this. Their marriage is as permanent to me as the Wasatch Mountains. Mountains don’t need work so why should a marriage? I keep asking questions but no one offers answers. Granma says the time will fly by and before we know it they’ll be back.

This is the first fracture I have seen in my family, the first fault line to run a jagged line through the comfortable security of my childhood. I see it like a dark edge cutting us until my stomach hurts and I’m gnawed by worry. They’re not all right. We’re not all right. Our marriage needs work means our world is not all right.

“I miss mommy.” I stand beside my sister on Granma’s front porch, looking at the road that took our parents away.

“I miss Daddy.” My sister whispers, her small hand slipping into mine.

We hear the trot of tiny feet as four poodles run passed us. Granma walks behind them.

“Do you miss your Daddy?” my sister looks up at our tall strong grandmother who is so wise and brave that I can’t imagine her ever needing or missing anyone.

“I miss him,” she says, her lips forming as sad, wistful smile.

“He was called Frank William,” I offer up his name as conformation that I listen, that Granma’s stories matter. “He was a farmer, a carpenter, an undertaker, and a black smith.”

“…and a sheep herder,” my sister looks up at me, scowling because I forgot.

“A shepherd.” Granma corrects her gently, “Yes we kept hundreds of sheep on Hefelton Farm. There were sheep and pigs, cows and geese, ducks and chickens. I had my pony Topsy and we had our giant Sire horses.”

“And the bull!”

“The big mean bull!” My sister adds.

“The biggest meanest bull that ever grazed on Dorset grass.” Granma settles down on the porch bench her eyes fixed on the garden, her words conjuring up a huge red bull in our imaginations.

“I had a penny farthing bicycle,” she begins, “the kind with one huge front wheel and one tiny back wheel. It was impossibly heavy, old and hard to ride. I was peddling home in a hurry on the day it happened. I’d done something terrible and was trying to make it home before anyone knew I’d even gone. Hefelton farm was so big that it was easy to lose track of people. I rode my bicycle up the lane and left it in the shrubbery to the right of the drive.”penny farthing

“Because of the geese.”

“Yes, the geese hated my bicycle. They would honk and bite at it and me, making so much noise that the men would come out of the hay fields and barns just for a laugh. Those geese gave me terrible bruises. My plan was to sneak up through the front pasture to the house and pretend I’d been in the garden all morning. I ducked through the wooden fence and ran as fast as I could for the house. The geese were in the lane grazing but they hadn’t seen me. It was then that I heard a great bellow of noise. Turning, I saw my father’s massive bull emerge from the shade, his nostrils flaring. He was coming towards me at a steady gallop, his horns lowered. I know he hadn’t been in that pasture when I snuck out. The ground shook as he ran at me, coming faster and faster. He was almost on me when I jumped through the fence, landing in a heap on the other side. The geese saw everything. They came running and honking into the lower garden, their long necks outstretched, their wings flapping. I ran for a nearby oak tree and swung up into the lower branches. All I had to do then was catch my breath and wait for the geese to go away. But then it happened. Theresa? My mother called. Looking through the branches I saw her standing by the farm house with the constable I had thought I’d outrun.”

“What had you done?”

“I had pinned a lit string of firecrackers to the constable’s coat tail. You should have seen that man jump.”

“What did they do to you?”

“I was caned and sentenced to a week of weeding the vegetable garden.”

“That evening when the men came in from the fields I was still on my knees in that garden, my arms and bottom whipped red with welts. My father laughed when he saw me there. Theresa Phillis, he said, you spend more time in that vegetable garden than you do out of it. When are you going to behave yourself? ”

“Never! I said, glaring up at him.”

“Well if you are going to be wicked I suppose it’s a good thing you’re also fast. That’s when I knew he knew about the constable and the bull. Everyone knew. I was the talk of the village and somehow that made it all worth it. I loved my father and he loved me. I loved my mother too but she made loving her hard.”

“Did your parents’ marriage ever need work?” I ask, still missing my parents.

“In those days there was no such thing as working on a marriage. You were married and that was the end of it. Marriages didn’t break, they endured.”

I think about what it would be like to live when Granma did. I like the farm, her pony and all the adventures but I don’t like the caning or the never ending hard work.

“Is it terrible to be a grownup Granma?” I ask.

She doesn’t answer for a bit. I watch her think, her face reflects her father’s death, the war, her exile from the village for having a war time child that wasn’t her husbands. Then there was the divorce that took my mother from her father and the immigration that made England only just a memory. All the starving and death, work and sacrifice for a life of instability and uncertainty.

“Is it awful?” my sister asks, her eyes big and sad.

“No,” Granma shakes her head, “it’s the biggest adventure you will ever have. No regrets. Not ever.”

“No regrets,” we repeat the words like a promise to her to be as tough as leather as strong as iron, as enduring as Granma? But how can we know this is a promise we can keep? After all, what is there yet to regret?
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The Death of the Guru

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We’re all searching for something. We’re all looking for the divine answer that leads to the divine escape from chaos, fear, heartache and loneliness. Whether we look for it in relationship, a bottle or a church we are seeking to be more, to be better, to but understood and accepted. When I was twelve I turned to Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. as my examples of peace. I desperately needed peace in my life, the kind of peace they seemed to embody. At twelve I realized how fully capable I was of violence. At fourteen I became a pacifist in theory if not in reality and I began my slow arduous journey towards a sustainable, compassion based existence. I began identifying and rooting out the evils in my life. First I moved away from home, taking my horse and staying with friends for months on end. At 22 I escaped completely and hardly looked back. By 23 I was married and safe but the hell in my head made a hell of my life. I continued my search for escape until the day I realized that wherever I went…there I was…with all my chaos in tow. I could not escape my problems because I never let them go.

Throughout my many years of searching for truth and forgivness I’ve come to one solid understanding: There is no single person who can fix me. There are thousands of people who insisted that if I just read their books, take their supplements, follow their philosophy or join their ashram I will find the inner peace I am searching for. I’ve had Christians tell me to placed my faith in Jesus and be free of darkness. I’ve had yoga masters promise me that through daily practice with their “Masters” I’ll be liberated, transformed and healed. Doctors have prescribed drugs, supplements and diets to clear my energy body, detox my cells and raise my energy vibrations. Acupuncturists have pocked me with needles, read my auras and told me that with a few more treatments my Chakras would come into balance.

I’ve spent thousands of dollars on healing, thousands of hours drinking bitter health teas, popping pills, stretching, praying, meditating only to rise the next morning the same angry person I’d been the night before. So what was the answer? On the eve of my 38th birthday the only thing I am certain of is that I am the only one who can fix me. My belief in the abilities of sage healers is dead. I will never again look to a “healer” for guidance. I have killed the idea of the guru because the wise man is just another person getting through the day. I recently watched the documentary Kumare’ by Vikram Gandhi which verified everything I have come to believe. Only through daily practice of that which feels good, feels right, and serves my highest good will I ever find peace. The ability to heal is within all of us; it’s just a matter of taking time away from social chaos, duty and convention in order to find the small simplicities that lead us into peace. So I meditate, I walk my dog, I stretch, I self-medicate when hell rains down and I pray to God to remove my anger, to help me forgive and to make me a better person. I practice everyday gratitude and I live and love as if each day were my last. If I tell you I love you I mean it. If I love you it’s because I see the light in you, the sparkle God put there and I’m grateful you’re in my life. We are our own wise men, our own holy men, and we hold the keys to our own salvation through love of God and love of each other, tranquility of sprit and the solemn acceptance that we are human: flawed, beautiful, unique and fragile.

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