The Painful Distinction of Doing and Being

Screen Shot 2014-12-17 at 8.47.42 PM

*Image credit:  Gardner Edmunds

It’s December 17th today, I am sitting in my office (the Panera Bread location) and enjoying the high of just mailing the last of my christmas gifts.  It’s a short-lived high. My to do list, is still a thick, itchy, wool scarf… wrapped entirely too tightly around my neck.

I don’t have time to be writing this.  But, if you are a follower of mine, you might recognize that I seem to NEVER have time for this anymore.  And there, my dears, is a dilemma.  Because much to my dismay, I have a lot of complicated needs to keep me from diving into a pit of despair and self-flagellation.

Two most important: I must exercise regularly.  And I must write things…to download these emotions that pile up like the mountain of mail order catalogues that are swallowing my kitchen table.

The real thing I should be doing right NOW, is writing a paper.  A  six page reflective essay  relating to a book about development of the western mind since Zeus ruled the heavens. An essay, due today, on “the identification and interpretation of personal beliefs that influence the creation of meaning in your life.”

Can’t I just turn in a link to my blog instead?  It is ridiculous that this assignment has me hand-wringing, since I have thought of little else in my life over the last ten years.  In addition to grocery lists and christmas cards and the fact that I am still wearing toenail polish put on my toes in August, my brain is mostly occupied with huge, all-encompassing things like GOD.  And Guilt.  And Spirit.  And Shame.  And Worthiness.  And Judgement.  And Redemption.  And Soul-Crushing Inadequacy.

-Deep Breath-

Here is the thing, about my personal beliefs.  And how they affect my daily life…  This mess, that I need to neatly roll into a beautiful, personal, reflective, six page, double spaced essay:

First, an internal audit of my beliefs.  And, I find an overwhelming recognition that the toxic, corrosive, divisive, emotionally blackmailing, schizophrenic, mainstream religious cult that me and five generations of people I love have  been marinating in… is still offering me plentiful chances to learn forgiveness and acceptance and self compassion.

It has been ten years of really hard work, to unravel so much of the control the religious training had over my life.  Like a comically long and preposterous to do list, I have taken care of obvious ones, like wearing the kind of underwear I want to, and the not so obvious ones, like redefining my feelings about sex and morality. Throwing out the devastating metaphors of girls being a “licked cupcake” or “Already Chewed Gum” when they decide to become sexual beings has been a serious chore.

It has been almost ten years of liberation and excavation.  Now, I am free to have a glass of wine, a cup of coffee, wear a tank top, drop the F bomb, watch a rated R movie, buy a bag of apples on sunday or read a book about anything I wish.   And I can do those things without guilt!  I now know that strong families and sincere love and limitless joy and unfathomable generosity exist outside of mormon life.

I can watch clips like this one, and see men I was taught were infallible prophets to revere and to digest their words as God’s words, and finally hear the controlling patriarchal rhetoric and the dark stream of damage that runs through the doctrines and teachings of the faith I was born in, those things I had once taught and defended as Truth.  I have ferociously fought off ingrained belief that my only purpose in this life is to be a support for my husband, and bear children and be obedient to men who know better than I.  I have had to challenge myself to rethink what it means to love someone, what the difference is between faith and magic, how to draw appropriate boundaries for myself and my children.

Much of the DOING is DONE.  There is not much left to DO, when it comes to creating concrete distance between myself and the LDS religion.  So imagine the rude awakening I have had, when I came to the end of that to do list and unwrapped that itchy scarf, ready to breathe freely and be done with the Deprogram the Mormonism Program, and find that the really painful damage, the deepest, darkest wounds… were underneath the all that doing.  The unwrapping has revealed what is left…. raw and dangerous emotion.

Over the past ten years, I have also been busy discovering and declaring what it is I believe.  It has been exhilarating and freeing and I have felt relief and unimaginable joy in the self discovery.

Every human being has inherent worth.  Worthiness is implicit.

There is nothing to prove.

There is nothing to earn.

What happens after this life is NONE OF MY BUSINESS.

The purpose of my life is to practice living each moment in the present.

I am adequate.

Every person longs to be seen and heard.

Good and evil are judgments.  There is only fear and love.

Staying OPEN is the only goal.

Being CLOSED is part of the process.  I will be open to that too.

There is no need to define the Divine.

These things I can comfortably and passionately declare as my belief system.  My list has been scrubbed free from the doctrine I was immersed in since birth. The trouble is, now that the doing has been done, when I look at myself in the mirror, there is still the mormon girl staring back.  

The doing has not created the being.

The act of writing those words sends pain rushing up to my throat like hot bile.  It threatens to expose me.   It is the recognition that the actions taken over the last decade, as terrifying and disorienting and inspiring as they have been, have not healed the anguishing canyon that exists in my soul.  On one side, the powerful, complete woman who embodies that list of beliefs, and on the other, a weeping girl who will never be worthy or adequate or whole.

I have come to the very edge of that abyss.

Maybe the only thing I really believe right now, is that I am not alone here, on this edge.  I know my story is not unique.  We are all good at the doing.  The doing, no matter what is on that list, or how tightly it threatens to strangle us, is a matter of overcoming inertia.

But to be in alignment with our true beliefs, to begin to stitch up the giant chasm within us…requires the being.

Being is where things get real.

There is no doing left for me here.  Not when it comes to healing my spirit.  And the being is the excruciating part.  The part where the emotions must be felt.  The part where the feelings must be allowed to exist.  The part where true compassion is discovered.  The part where I simply exist.

I don’t really know how.  But I know there is no try… that is a doing word.

So for now, I will just breathe.

The Wound

Screen Shot 2014-10-09 at 10.29.15 PM

“The wound is the place Light enters you”    – Rumi

About a year ago, we were entertaining guests on a friday night.  I opened the refrigerator to offer my friend a beer, and the bottle seemed to launch itself at me from its overstuffed pocket and smashed to the tile floor, pulverizing in an impressive explosion of beer foam and teeny shards of glass.  One particular piece of miniscule shrapnel left the tip of my pointer finger bleeding, the glass stubbornly embedded itself deeper and deeper with each attempt to pull it out.  Eventually, my finger healed over the shard, and I had a tiny brown freckle at the tip of my finger.  It would give me a sharp, biting reminder of it’s presence once in a while, when any pressure was applied to my fingertip.  It was a part of me, this invader, a permanent wound lurking under a new layer of skin.  I lived with it there for a long time.  And then, many months later, I found myself in pain again.  My finger became red and sore, the tip got swollen and hot, and my body began to fight.  The eviction notice had been sent.

This process was shocking and sudden and a bit unwanted… I had grown accustomed to the glass, and did not appreciate the throbbing pain I was suddenly dealing with.  The expulsion was much more painful than the first moment it entered me and left me bleeding.  My body smartly worked that glass back to the surface of my fingertip, and in a moment of desperation, wanting to end the pain, I aggressively pinched under the enflamed tissue, hard and tight, and squeezed until the glass cut through the skin once again.   Finally rejected, I rinsed it away,  purged at last.

 

 

I have been silent.  Gone.

 

Things happened, and the pain swallowed me up for a while. And I am learning that I do not handle my own pain well.  I have no tolerance for my own tears.  My own suffering.  It simply does not feel just, when I am so aware of my privelege.  There is a magnitute of suffering outside my own sphere that I cannot comprehend…  So,  I have learned to be scornful of my wounds.  And now, that scorn has revealed itself… the dark truth of it’s nature.

We all have shrapnel, healed over and buried beneath our skin.  Words that carry shame and rejection, moments that violate and negate… these are the shards that cut deep and become a part of us, grown in.  We carry them until it is time.  When we are ready to let them surface, force them out, and bleed again.

But it is not the purging that transforms.

It is in the wounding.  The embedding. The healing.

In this spiraled process, we are found whole.

The Cure

We think we get over things.

We don’t get over things.

Or say, we get over the measles,

but not a broken heart.

We need to look at that distinction.

The thing that becomes part of our experience,

never becomes less a part of our experience.

How can I say it?

The way to get over a life is to die.

Short of that you move with it, let the pain be pain.

Not in the hope that it will vanish

But in the faith that it will fit in,

find its place in the shape of things

and be then, not any less pain,

but true to form.

Because anything natural has an inherent

shape and will flow towards it.

And, a life is as natural as a leaf.

That’s what we are looking for:

Not the end of a thing,

but the shape of it.

Wisdom is seeing the shape of your life

without obliterating, getting over,

a single instant of it.

                       -Author Unknown

What Can You Know for Sure?

know

verb (used with object), knew, known, know·ing.

1.  to perceive or understand as fact or truth; to apprehend clearly and with certainty

2.to have established or fixed in the mind or memory

3.to be cognizant or aware of

4.be acquainted with, as by sight, experience, or report

5.to understand from experience or attainment

What do you know for sure?

My entire life has been driven by this question.   KNOW… the most powerful word that exists in mormon culture.  When I say or even think this word, I hear the definitive crack of a slamming of a gavel.   It is done.

I left my faith because of the misuse and abuse of this word.

As a mormon girl, I ached to know.   I wanted it so much, the need swirled, undefined and cloudy within me until unmet, it settled itself into my bones.  Infused itself into my muscles and fibers and tissues.

“I know the church is true.”

“I know the scriptures are true.”

“I know Joseph Smith is a prophet of God.”

 These declarations of truth are scratched into my psyche. Imprinted.  The desire to make those words my own drove me to the brink of despair.  I followed all of the mormon formulas, but the words were not mine to profess.  To be surrounded by people with such concrete proclamations burrowed a deep well of failure inside me.

Once a month, mormon worship includes  holding an open mic testimony meeting, where members of the congregation go up the pulpit and declare what they know is true.

tes·ti·mo·ny

 [tes-tuh-moh-nee, or, esp. British, -muh-nee]  Show IPA

noun, plural tes·ti·mo·nies.

1. Law. the statement or declaration of a witness under oath or affirmation, usually in court.

2. evidence in support of a fact or statement; proof.

3. open declaration or profession, as of faith.

4. Usually, testimonies. the precepts of God.

Although there is no script, the conditioning that begins in the preschool years leads to the inclusion of certain key phrases that most people use while “bearing their testimony.”  It almost always begins with

“I’d like to bear my testimony…I know the church is true.”

There is no age restriction, so usually the open mic hour will begin with children in the congregation.   Parents will lead their toddlers and preschoolers up to the mic, hoist them onto their hips, or let them stand invisible behind the thick wooden lectern.  They whisper the words to their tiny children.  The little ones must hold their breath with the strain of listening to their mom or dad’s sentences, which they repeat in a breathy burst.

I know this church is true…

I know the scriptures are the words of God…

I know Heavenly Father loves me.

In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

Then the adults get up.  They will often tell a story to illustrate their “knowing.”  They often cry.  I remember my mother’s soft hands, twisting tissues around her fingers, dabbing her eyes.  She is moved to tears with ease.  My father, sitting straight and attentive, was less emotive.   Neither of my parents brought me to the pulpit.  I never felt their lips and their breath tickling my ear, feeding me their words to declare.  They did not pressure me as I got older to participate in this public ritual.  I felt weak with relief that they never required it of me.  But, the opportunity to “bear your testimony” was presented with great regularity throughout my upbringing.  Sunday school, scripture studies, youth activities, church camp, and family gatherings.  I have witnessed my grandmother, aunts, uncles, cousins, siblings, parents, mentors and friends all tearfully bear their testimony throughout my life.

My best friend through middle school and high school was not a mormon girl.  She was delightfully agnostic, and her life was not an internal storm of powerful statements and concepts  (God, testimony, truth, sacred, salvation, purity, modesty, worthiness).   She came with me to a youth overnight camp for teens ages 14 + when we were juniors in high school.   It was one of the few times I ever invited her to a church activity.  At the end of the overnight trip, there was a testimony meeting.  I sat next to her, feeling as if I might erupt with expectation, as one by one, my peers and friends got up and declared their testimony.  My friend began elbowing me, urging me to get up and do it.  “Go.  Go.”  She prodded after each teenager sniffled their way back their seat.  She wanted me to do it, she wanted to hear what it was that I knew.  I shook my head in refusal, and finally,  I turned in my seat and caught her eyes.  I let her see it, for just a brief flash…the devastation I felt in not knowing.

I decided to give the mormon church one last chance when I was a young student teacher, writing to a mormon missionary whom I felt I was falling in love with.  I wanted the door to be opened to me… the door that seemed to close me off from the knowing that my family and peers all spoke of so reverently… I had been knocking until my knuckles bled, and the mantle of shame, being shut out of this special place, was crushing.

I read the Book of Mormon.  It took a while, because every few verses I would be overcome by doubt.  I would read a passage and feel resistance.  I would drop to my knees every few minutes and plead with Heavenly Father to release me from the doubts, to open my heart.  To let me in.  A steady stream of tears dripped from the end of my nose onto the flimsy pages of text.  I finished the whole book this way, reading, weeping, pleading, praying.

I waited for the affirmation that what I read was “true.”  I waited for the burning in my heart, the warmth and knowledge that had been declared to me by everyone I loved.   It was a knowing I would not be granted.

It could not be formed out of my desire.

Over the weekend, Rick and I  watched the fifth Harry Potter movie with my girls.  In the story, Harry has to write “I must not tell lies”  on a sheet of paper with a magic quill.  As he does this, the words are painfully etched into his flesh.  When he asks how many times he must write the words, the professor responds, “Until it leaves a mark.”

There did not need to be a magic quill like Harry’s to wound me, only the continual and absolute declaration of truth and knowledge by everyone important to me…and their insistence that my inability to join them was my own retched failings.  The etched over words “I know this church is true” were not a delicious imprint, but a searing scar I carried.

They had left their mark.

I was never allowed to shape my own personal testimony.  There is only one answer to  arrive at… the church is true. How is a child supposed to explore and come to their own ideas about God, spirit, worthiness, sacrifice, scripture, and prayer, when the answers are whispered into their ears, etched into their souls since infancy, and kept there with the fear of losing their culture, their identity, the acceptance of their people?  The notion that what one knows to be personal truth should also be accepted or can be experienced as universal truth is limiting, damaging, and confining.  People need opportunity to explore who they are free of shame and fear.  Children must not be spoon fed what we feel is our truth.  It is our job to be witnesses to the unfolding of their own knowing. To present all the possibilities we can and watch with fascination as the differences and similarities emerge.

What do you know? What IS knowing?

I have known things.  That knowing came in a flash of recognition, the way a deep breath fills your lungs and then is carried into every organ, every tissue, every cell, through your beating heart.

When I comb through my life for the most significant moments, KNOWING are the shimmering stones on my pathway.  The moments I KNEW.   They vibrate with tension and energy….  The moment I knew I would marry Rick.  The moment I knew I was pregnant.  The moment I knew the force of a mother’s love.  The moment I knew that I must look for my own knowing.   The moment I knew I must reclaim myself.

The only thing that we can truly know is ourselves.  Knowing oneself is a work that spans a lifetime of inquiry and analysis and forgiveness and fortitude, and what I believe, is the purpose of our life.

To know oneself, is to know God.

“He who knows others is wise; he who knows himself is enlightened.”  – Laozi

The Church is True: My Belly Flop

 “Humiliation is the beginning of sanctification.”  -John Donne

On the fourth of July, Rick and I went golfing in a monsoon. We took cover in the clubhouse, and ordered a couple of beers to pass the time and dry out.  The bar only took cash, and we had none.  Unthwarted, Rick broke into my emergency stash of money I keep in the glove compartment…rolls of quarters I use in a pinch, or for parking.  The golf did not happen, but the beers were good, and we high-fived our resourcefulness and quick thinking in our beverage “emergency.”

Sipping these beers sort of looked like this:

Total bliss, but the flop comes next.

This brings me to the flop. Yesterday.  After a week long visit at my in-laws home in northern Vermont with the hubs and kids, I was hightailing it home to Connecticut.  Rick and the girls would follow the next day.   It was hard to leave them, despite my yearning for my own bed and the peace of being able to work uninterrupted for a day.  I was longing for home, but acutely aware of how completely alone I would be in Connecticut. I have not made many intimate connections in our new area thus far, and there is a keen sense of loneliness that swamps me when I think about my lack of people.  Home is where your people are.

To help myself not dwell in the sense of homelessness but swim in the bliss of a long four hour drive alone (glorious!)  I was cruising at a smooth 70, enjoying the sun, the AC in my car, the freedom to be silent and listen to whatever I damn well please.  I was invigorated.  Alive.

 

Three hours into my drive, I realized that I was approaching my last quarter tank of gas.  And that is when the image of my purse, hanging on the back of my mother in law’s kitchen chair burned a hole in my brain.  I had no wallet.  No money.  Credit card.  ID.  Nada.

 

That’s ok!  I thought.  I will make it!  This is a test, surely.  This is a great blessing!  A chance to rise to the occasion!  Old Megan would be cursing and panicking, New Megan was zen, calm, living in the moment. And  at the moment, I had gas in my  tank, so no worries.  I’m livin’ in the NOW my friends.

A visual:  I’m more like Carly (confident) than Lydia (nervous but willing to try the ride).

 

In mormon folklore, there are tons of stories about people that have tremendous faith, and they are sustained by miracles.  Like the bible story about Jesus feeding the 5,000. There are innumerable modern day miracle stories of mormon people that tithed their last cent to the church and find their supply of food magically replenished.  I may not be mormon anymore, but miracles happen, and not just to mormons!

This was going to be me.  I was going to make it all the way home, the gas tank will be sustained by my unshaken faith in the universe.  I turned off the AC, to conserve.  Just letting the universe know I was willing to meet halfway, be a little uncomfortable…(translation…sweat my ass off).

Twenty miles from home, the last bar on my gas meter disappeared.  I took the next exit, not wanting to be on the freeway as reality tapped me on the shoulder.  I pulled over, and I will admit, I said a few naughty words.  But then I took some deep, meditative breaths and chugged my way to a gas station on fumes.   I smiled, and felt safe and congratulatory for getting to a pump relatively calm and unscathed.

Ok. Time to regroup.  Maybe the miracle would look more like this:  I was going to dig through the pile of crap in my car and find a ten dollar bill.  There were mormon stories like this too.  Faith, people.

I was not losing composure.

But maybe a little more Lydia (left) than Carly at this point…

.

So I ransacked my car.  When all the trash had been tossed… the golf bag, tennis bag, suitcase, camera bag, writing satchel…

I found the squashed wrapper for the roll of quarters, and lamented those beers.  Just three days before, we drank away what should have been my last gallon of gas.

This is when I knew…I’m being punished for those brews.

The church IS true.*

But seriously, it was pushing 90 degrees with ungodly humidity, I was in unfamiliar territory, all of my family was four hours away. I searched for solutions, someone to help me, rescue me.  But there was no one.  I was going to have to beg for money.  This is so much worse than it sounds.  Believe me.

 First, every time I have ever turned away from a person with an outstretched hand came back to my memory like a slap in the face.  And every moment I had put money in that hand attached with some heavy judgement made me burn with shame.  I watched eight or nine cars fill up and leave.   I could not bring myself to do it.

After loitering for 30 minutes, the shame or the heat or both sent me into the tiny station.  There was a line of people with wallets. They had bags of ice and Snickers bars and cigarettes.  Over their heads, the attendant asked me “which pump?” and much to my exceeding horror, my eyes filled with tears.  I ran to the back corner of the store to wipe them frantically away.  They just kept coming.

 I cried in the Dorito isle and waited for all the wallets to leave, and then wept like a little girl as I explained my predicament to the guy behind the glass partition.  He asked me if someone was coming.  If my husband was coming, or a friend.  I told him no one was coming.  I was alone.  He suggested I begin asking customers for money and I retreated to the gatorade cooler to marinate in my mortification, unable to stop the crying.

I was humiliated.  The tears, the “damsel in distress” act I could not get a handle on… filled me with renewed shame.  I detest crying.  Especially in public. Especially  amongst strangers.

In the end, Gary B. from Windsor saved me.  I stalked him awkwardly, stifling those embarrassing shudders that happen when you are choking on intense emotion.  I watched him buy lottery tickets and gab with the attendant, who kept throwing me looks. I could barely make it through my plea, I had lost all control. He took pity on my obvious distress, and I was pulling into my driveway 15 minutes later.  My ability to stand in that humility and risk rejection was completely spent on that one request. If Gary had said no, I may have found myself enduring a long walk home, unable to gather the courage again.

 Instead of writing all night as planned, I was wrung out by the experience.  I showered, letting the shame wash down the drain, and climbed into the sanctuary of my own bed.

 I am going to tack this experience on to a growing list of excruciatingly humiliating moments I have been wading through lately.  It was probably on par with meeting the neighbors while giving Stella a lice treatment the week we moved here, but only marginally more tolerable than the school fundraiser this year.  Details withheld until I don’t feel like crawling into a hole at the mere mention of it.    Here’s to hoping the lesson I am meant to learn from marinating in humiliation is mastered soon.  Before I show up naked to Rick’s company picnic.  You never know.

 

* A very mormon declaration that LDS people use regularly to claim that the only church that has the complete “truth” is the mormon church.  It is often used to  “prove” that a circumstance directly correlates to the truthfulness of the gospel.