This will be my last post from the reflective, spiritual writing workshop I went to this year (see Well-come and A Conversation with Myself). The second day of the workshop, we focused on the water image of a river. The river evokes many nuances and directions: the image of movement and journey, many streams feeding into a river, the varied ways rivers flow due to rocks and plant life, different speeds like rapids or gently moving. In addition, all rivers flow toward unity with the ocean - another lovely image for God. We were given a list of sentences as prompts. I have been struggling with chronic migraines for a year, so I adpated one of their prompts to form this question, "Where is the current of migraines taking me?" What follows is my response to this reflective prompt:
When I resist migraines with a mighty effort, the pain worsens, the process lengthens. The body wants relief, rest, release – to flow with ease down the River of God rather than being assaulted by every stone, tree, log, or boulder. Can I just float past these obstacles and distractions? Can I acknowledge they exist, but feel no need to pick them, take them into my raft, my heart and soul? I am not the Source; all belongs to the River. I am a drop with an over-blown sense of responsibility for what does not belong to me. "Give back what belongs to me," the River beckons, "and float along your merry way." I am no one else's life raft. When I get caught on someone else's snag, I might miss what is in store for me – joyful rapids, swirling fun, splashing play, and oneness with the great ocean of God. I keep my hands and mind to myself, tending to my own raft, embracing God's river dance for me.
Photo taken on my phone.
At the reflective writing workshop I attended this past spring, Joyce Rupp and Mary Kay Shanley used the metaphor of water to invite us into reflective exercises designed to help us access our inner wisdom - insights that are not readily available to our conscious mind in the course of our daily busy-ness. For Christians water is a sacramental image that evokes divine presence at creation, at the parting of the Red Sea, and at Baptism; water speaks to us of cleansing, rebirth, liberation and daily sustenance.
The first day, we used the image of a well - of digging deeply and pulling up nourishment for life. A participant who grew up on a farm with a well as their water source pointed out that sand and sendiment can seep into the well creating the need for it to be cleaned out and filtered. We also spoke of the water table deep within the earth - that if we dig deeply enough, we access that water table whcih is the source of all wells - a wonderful image for God. Here is one piece that came from this reflective writing exercise:
My true self has been dehydrated and buried under the sediment of expectations, needs, fears and admonishments of others. Be yourself, but not that much. Turn it down. I am tired of the energy exerted to squash the feelings, wisdom, inspiration, innovation, intelligence and fun of my true self. I dive deep into the well of my soul where Divine energy washes over me and sweeps away the detritus of death that would bury me alive; the never-ending search for acceptance and approval from my mom to motherchurch. I touch the depth of my best and highest good from the very essence of God who swirled me into being. I am here and I am not going away! The Divine says, "yes!" to a world full of "no's". Yes to the me-ness of me. I soak in the courage to accept God's acceptance of me. Floating in the fullness of presence, I drink from God's water table where I am always welcome.
Well-come – all is well, come!
The well is full – come!
Come well – come whole!
Come as yourself!
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I attended a Spiritual Writing Workshop last April with Joyce Rupp and Mary Kay Shanley. Our last assignment was to have a written conversation with our inner self as a tool for accessing our own wisdom. Having suffered from chronic migraines for a year, I chose this issue as my topic for this exercise:
I am so tired of you! I'm trying to do the right things so you can feel good, but you never do! I've said I'm sorry, I've thanked you, and I've sent love to you. I walk outside, breathe fresh air, have cleaned up my diet from dairy and sugar, I exercise, I sleep a lot, I give you ice, meds, and meditations – What do you want and need from me? What's so hard about having a pain-free day?
It's the pursuit of control over all of this that you must let go.
But it seems that routine, schedule, daily habits are supposed to be good and helpful.
It's the control over outcomes you wish to exert over your body that's the problem, not the habits themselves.
So I'm supposed to care of myself without the expectation or goal that I will feel good and healthy? That doesn't even make sense. That's why I do them.
Yes, but it's the tit-for-tat, the immediate response, the iron-grip on your daily life and habits that doesn't' work. It's an organic process; you get mad at yourself if you don't get the results you want from whatever you do – all that does is put more stress on your system rather than release stress.
I don't like accepting limitations; I was raised to produce to outcomes by controlling my actions.
Yes, but life is really the opposite. Accept how you feel, accept what you can do today rather than what you think you should do. Start with acceptance and love of what is, without an agenda or a "have to".
Why is this so hard for me?
Because it's the opposite of what our culture promotes and it's not the path of perfectionism. All these exercise programs say, "don't quit, don't give up on yourself, push harder" but every time you blow past your own body's wisdom, limits, and what's possible for today, you "give up on yourself" – your true self.
So you're saying I need to listen inward rather than outward?
Yes! It's easier to be healthy and pain free when you don't have an adversarial role or a conquering attitude toward your body.
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I was surprised how easy it was to hold still this time. The Darth Vader-like mask was locked over my head, the IV was in and I was squished into the sliding platform with cushy headphones on my ears. Since my head-MRI a year ago, I've spent more time in prayer and meditation. I remember working at holding still, wondering how long it would take. I stealed myself against the loud banging and clanking of the magnetic imaging, trying hard breathe calmly and stay still.
What a difference a year makes. This time, it was more like a new opportunity to meditate. Being still was easy, even relaxing. I listened to classical music instead of NPR and let go of trying to listen to the daily news between the foghorn blasts of the MRI. I turned my attention inward for a conversation with God. Sometimes the machine was so loud it drowned out the music playing in my ears.
"It's awful noisy out there," I offered to the sacred presence within.
"Yes it is," replied God, "the world is a noisy place."
"It's very noisy," I agreed. I thought of the highway traffic that can be heard from our back deck at rush hour. The music seeped into my ears through the hammering.
"But if you listen closely and pay attention," continued the sacred voice, "you can always hear the symphony of creation playing underneath; it's always there." I remembered listening to the birds sing over that din of traffic.
Just like the voice of God in the stillness of a noisy MRI.
The words of Psalm 46 are true: Be still and know that I am God.
"We're getting such great pictures!" the technician announced excitedly into the headphones.
"Take your time," I thought, "I''m listening to the symphony of creation."
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