Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Diet update - October 23rd

It's been a few days. I haven't felt much like reporting about my diet, to be honest. It isn't that I'm not losing; I am, and then some. To date, I have lost 25 pounds. However, the last two weeks have been very frustrating for me. Unlike the early weeks, I've been hungry.

Now, when I say hungry, please don't take me to mean peckish, or that I have the munchies. I mean hungry, with my tummy making growling sounds that are audible to people around me. It's not constant, but it's frequent, and it has caused me to be very grumpy and out of sorts.

That said, I'm trying right now to focus on the positive. I started out at 220 pounds even, and this morning I weighed in at 195 pounds. And as you'll see from the stats below, it isn't just my weight that's shrinking. By the way, these measurements are made by the nurse, not me, and he writes them in my book, not me.

My neck started out with a measurement of 15.75", and is now at 14.375".
My chest started at 51" and is now at 49.25".
My waist started at 49.5" and is now at 49".
My hips started at 52" and are now at 49".
My thighs started at 19.25" and are now at 17.5".

 This is me one day before my official weigh in. I was 220 lbs. I was hurting ALL the time. I was living on doses of acetaminophen and ibuprofen. I was miserable. I couldn't even think of exercising. In fact, I was beginning to have real issues doing daily chores. Standing to do the dishes (in a *dishwasher*) would cause my back to cramp up. The garden was largely a failure this year because I just wasn't able to get out and DO it. I had no energy at all. Did I mention I was miserable?

During all this, I went off my anti-depressants (yay me for being almost 3 months clear of them!) and went from being happy-but-fat to being horrified at how I looked and wondering how I could have just ignored it. It was ... scary.

 This is me yesterday (Oct. 22). I weighed in at 197 that morning, and have lost an extra 2 lbs since. I look less like I'm holding up some kind of huge weight in front of me, and more like I'm standing. The shirt is getting baggy on me (my pants, all but one pair of which I just purchased 2 weeks ago, are falling off of me... literally). The skirt is a drawstring style, thankfully, and I've had to cinch it tighter several times.

I don't wince getting up most mornings now (though I noticed the cold weather definitely affected me today). My back pain has gone from a 5/10 to a 1 or 2/10, and there are whole swatches of time that I don't hurt at all. My feet and ankles aren't constantly feeling like they're going to give out on me. The idea of going up and down the stairs is no longer... well, it's no longer a thought. I just do it. I pop up and down several times a day now, after spending most of a year making sure I had a list of what to do while upstairs so I wouldn't have to make the trip twice.

That's me from the side, first day. I'm kind of embarrassed to look at it right now. My belly is so prominent, and I look pregnant. My chin sort of slopes down into my chest, never really making a neck.
You can see my belly here, but at least it's less. In fact, this is the first time I've looked at these two pictures at the same time and I'm actually kind of stunned. There's a very noticeable difference between the first picture and this second one. Among them is that the roll of fat that used to be at my lower back going into my buttocks appears to have shrunk. Either that or I've lost enough weight that I'm now standing upright (another reason my back pain has probably gone down, actually) and so not causing the fat to roll there. My chin still sort of meets with my chest, but not as much. I can definitely see a difference.

Making these pics large in the interest of SEEING. That's the day before we started the diet. Sorry it's fuzzy, but you can see the rolls. Look at my "neck".

Now look at that. I mean, wow. There are no rolls there! And I want to point out that, despite my not having had a shower the morning this photo was taken, and it being taken later in the day, my hair looks cleaner, perkier, shinier.

So. Would I tell someone to try this diet? No, probably not. I am counting the days until we're done (Oct. 29th, people, Oct. 29th). But I can't say it doesn't work. All of this has been done with minimal exercise, too. I have walked for 20 minutes and ridden a recumbent bike for 20 minutes, 3 times a week at the YMCA while the kids are swimming. Walking slowly is all I'm permitted. I expect to see some grand results once I have more calories coming in and I'm able to get to the gym and start lifting weights and using the elliptical and all that.

I had three days when I didn't eat the specific diet. The first was a load day chosen by my consultant, and was on day 26. I was to stick fairly close to the diet (no dairy, no 'real' bread, etc.) but eat 1500 calories. I had breakfast that day, and I had popcorn with butter at night. Then last Tuesday we celebrated several things (sis's birthday, vow renewals, a visit from an old friend) and ate out at JP Stephens, where I ate a ton of food including dessert. Two nights ago I went mental and couldn't handle being hungry anymore, so I had a shrimp wrap (rice wrapper around lettuce, carrots, green onions, shrimp, with vinegar dip) after my dinner. I then spent hours feeling guilty about it... but I wasn't hungry, at least.

So there. I've bared my soul (and body shame) to you.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Blog Action Day - Human Rights

I am not even sure where to begin, because this topic is so huge, and I just couldn't find myself a niche to write about. Instead, I invite you to join me as I ramble about things I think are important, in relation to human rights around our country and the world.

Malala Yousafzai (1)
I find myself thinking a lot, lately, about Malala Yousafzai. On , she said “Let us remember: One book, one pen, one child, and one teacher can change the world,” Yousafzai said on September 27, 2013. “Let us stand up for our rights, and let us fight.” She's only 16 years old, and she's "just" a student. I watch her pretty face as she talks in videos, and she's animated, bright, excited for life. She's also probably top of the Taliban's "most wanted" list.

Yes, you have that right: a 16 year old school girl, armed with nothing more than an education and willpower, is causing the Taliban to quake. Perhaps she's hit on the strategy that we need to take. Perhaps what we need to do is stop blowing up things, and start sending our soldiers to schools where they can stand over young women like Malala as they learn. Perhaps we should be teaching our own young women about students like Malala, and encourage them to use the mighty sword of education to slay the dragons of our future.

Ms Yousafzai stands up for her right to education, her right to learn. She hasn't said a word about religion, politics, or government. Instead, she's talked about how important it is for children to be educated, and how that education makes them free. I was incredibly disappointed to learn that the (now meaningless, in my opinion) Nobel Peace Prize went to someone else.

Declaration (2)
In 1945, the United Nations made a Universal Declaration of Human Rights. While I'm not a huge fan of the latest items put out by the United Nations, this one is a pretty nifty document. It talks about the various rights of human beings. Rights are inalienable... this means that they cannot be granted or taken away; they simply ARE. Privileges are granted, while rights just exist. These rights are things which are incredibly basic: the right to freedom, to basic education, to religious choice, to life partners, to vote, to humane care while imprisoned, and other such items.

What about other things that "might be" rights, though? Is it a human right to receive health care? To be happy? To have a job? I'm not so sure. It's definitely our right to pursue those things, but a right to have them? That seems a bit much. Can someone force you to be happy, or keep a job, or get care when you don't want (or need!) it? Is it even moral for someone to do so? I think not.

So what kind of things are rights? I think the UN's list is a good one. I'd love to see it come true, because as Malala has proven to us, education is only a right on paper. In reality, it's a privilege that only some of us get. Maybe rather than inventing new rights, we should start defending and spreading the use of the ones we've already declared.

What good is a human right if it isn't upheld? We can whine about the human right to education, to freedom of religion, or to not be held without cause, but if the human race as a whole chooses to allow one person or group to violate those rights, then what kind of people are we, really?

Ministry (3)
On a different note, when you come and talk to me as a minister, you have a right to confidentiality. I don't know if that's one of those "inalienable rights" or not, but I consider it such. But if you violate one of the Big Rules, I will report you. Those Big Things are child abuse, and harming a human being (including yourself). I don't report those out of malice, but out of love. I thank my gods on a regular basis that I have not had any moments when I've been in a situation of deciding whether something is serious enough to report or not. I know that some day I may have to... and I dread it. Confidentiality is a big thing for me. It enhances people's trust in me, and I hope rightly so.

I suppose if I summed it up, I'd say that I want to see what human rights we've decided on as a planet, actually enforced or upheld. I don't want to hear more stories about big, strong men with large guns shooting up school buses full of little girls who just want an education. That unmans ALL of us.

1) Image of Malala Yousafzai by U.S. Agency for International Development / Wikimedia Commons
2) Image by Kevin Connors / morgueFile
3) Image by magicART

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Day 15 - Diet updates

 Really, really hard to post the images today. But I'm doing it. It's day 15, and I've been on the diet two weeks. I have lost weight, and there's no getting around that at all. I'm lower now than I have been since before the twins were born. I'm less miserable emotionally this week, but it's also been a really tough week due to stuff I just am not sharing on the internet.

I am doing better with the food most times. I'm not hungry, although there's kind of a niggling feeling that I'd like to put something in my mouth a lot of the time. It's not distracting, though. If I pick up a book, play a gem match game, post a blog entry, it disappears into the background noise of life in general. It's supposed to continue getting easier, so the world is good.

I won't lie, there have been some major challenges. Food addiction isn't like any other addiction, you know? You can't just put it down and say, "I won't ever have that again." Food is necessary to life. It isn't good enough to just not eat; you must learn to control it, control yourself, eat sensibly, eat reasonably. I know all this, and have for years, but I have lacked the tools to move forward. I'm not sure that I'll have the tools at the end of this, but at the very least I'm getting a ton of help and support that starts with the doc and goes all the way down to the youngest member of our family. Still, when I go to a funeral and every food I love is in a massive buffet with people urging me to gorge myself, it's a challenge. A big one. It's emotional. Heck, the food part of this is the EASY part.

Okay, so ... stats. I did promise to share those.

Neck: start: 15.75" / Monday the 30th: 15"
Bicep: start: 13" / Monday: 12"
Waist: start: 49.5" / Monday: 50" (don't judge, it's That Time)
Hips: start: 52" / Monday: 50.75"
Thigh: start: 19.25" / Monday: 18.75"
Weight: start: 220lbs / Monday: 206lbs
You can see that it's working. There are some odd stats, like my thigh, which went up this week (from last week, not from the beginning), but the doc figures that's just variations in how he measured, or exactly where on my leg he measured. And if you have any doubt that Aunt Flo makes your waist larger, there's proof. I've lost weight, lost girth, lost a dress size, and my pants fit... but my waist is an inch larger right now than last week.

On top of everything else, I'm sick this week. Really sick. I have flu or some upper respiratory thing. Coughing, low fever, sore throat, headache, sinus pressure, chest gunk, chills. Bleh. If I can do this now, I can do it any time.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Day 9 - Diet updates

Exercising helps... (1)
Well, I'm now on Day 9 of my diet. I didn't end up posting my stats on Monday and I've been hellishly busy all this week. But this morning I finally have a few moments of free time. So for those who are interested in how I'm doing, read on. Those who don't care, carry on with whatever else you were doing before you ran across this post.

My weight this morning was 208 lbs. Wow. I am going to be honest and say that I haven't seen this side of 210 since 5 or 6 years ago. And even just losing the 12 lbs that I have so far (my initial weigh in had me at 220), I am noticing that my joints aren't hurting as much, I'm going up and down the stairs more easily, and I'm walking more easily. The food I've eaten is pretty much what I ate before, minus the dairy, grains, oils, and sweeteners. What I mean is, I'm not doing any shakes or pre-packaged food. I'm just making my normal food with the ingredients I have available to me per the diet. So for instance, yesterday I had a lovely fish curry for lunch. There you go.

The other side of things. In the interest of bluntness, I'm hungry right now. I will say this is the first time I've been really and truly hungry since I started the diet, and I can pretty much tell you why I'm hungry. I ministered at a funeral yesterday and was invited to the wake. I took my own food, but that family was designed to be my nemesis: they had a whole wheel of really good brie cheese, a lasagna, tiramisu made from scratch and labeled "not for children: alcoholic", and a variety of other delicious things laid out. I spent most of my time on their balcony, trying to ignore the rumblings in my stomach. Oh, how I wanted to go eat something, ANYTHING. And I'm still hungry this morning. I'll get past it, but it's been really rough.

I haven't been truly hungry on this diet so far. I am vaguely munchy, is how I describe it. I've enjoyed eating the foods I've been allowed, and I've mostly felt full after eating them. The food is simple, easy to prepare, and I make it really tasty with spices and herbs. Emotionally, though, this has just been a roller coaster. I get happy seeing the number on the scale, yes, but I've been angry and frustrated with everyone around me. My tolerance for things going "other than planned" has been almost zero. I blow up very quickly, and I've been miserable for much of it.

I'm afraid of coming off the diet and going right back to the over-eating. I'm learning a lot about portion control, and that's good, but I'm hungry. I want to eat. I miss having a bit of popcorn with the kids on the weekend. I miss being able to have low fat non-dairy creamer in my coffee. I miss being able to have tuna. I miss having breakfast, and more than that, I miss having eggs.

This is HARD.

I'm not giving up. Here's why:

Neck: start: 15.75" / Monday the 23rd: 15.25"
Bicep: start: 13" / Monday: 12.75"
Waist: start: 49.5" / Monday: 49"
Hips: start: 52" / Monday: 51.25"
Thigh: start: 19.25" / Monday: 18.5"
Weight: start: 220lbs / Monday: 213.5lbs

According to my scale (which may differ from the doctor's), on my first weigh in day at home (Friday last week) I was 216lbs. This morning I was 208lbs. I weighed myself three times, because I didn't think that was right.

Yes, the weight is coming off. Yes, the girth is coming off. Yesterday, I fit into a dress that I haven't fit into for over a year. It was a wee bit tight, but if I hadn't been heading out to something where I was doing a lot of moving, I could easily have worn it. And I didn't hurt going up and down the stairs to pee during the night. I didn't get up all creaky like I have been.

There. Now you know.

1) Image by o0o0xmods0o0o / morgueFile

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Weighing in - Day 3

Well, here it goes. Weigh in was tonight. First weigh in, so please don't judge. I'm feeling kind of emotionally shaky right now. Here goes:

Weight: 220 lbs
Neck: 15.75"
Shoulder: 47"
Chest: 51"
Bicep: 13"
Waist: 49.5"
Hips: 52"
Thigh: 19.25"
Calf: 16.25"

Today for lunch I had 4 oz of chicken breast, 4 oz of mixed broccoli, carrot, mushroom, and green onions, and 1 piece of melba toast. I had that with a cup of lettuce, a half cup of spinach, a half cup of cabbage, 4 cherry tomatoes, a half cuke and a half pepper, with a home made dressing. I had coffee with coconut milk and stevia (2 big mugs), and (at time of posting) about 80 oz of water.

For dinner I had 4 oz of chicken breast cooked in a tbsp of coconut milk and curry, with 4 oz of mixed broccoli, red pepper strips, mushrooms, and zucchini sliced like "noodles". I had a kiwi as my fruit, and one half of a pita pocket to sop up the (admittedly rather tasty) curry sauce.

And now it's almost 9pm, and I'm going to bed.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Temple keeping

I'm on a diet. Yeah, I say that from time to time. Don't we all? And I say what everyone says at this point: this time it's going to be different. And truthfully, it IS always different, sometimes less successful and sometimes more, but always different. The bottom line is, my weight has become a health issue, and it simply can't continue the way it is. The temple that I have been given is becoming defiled, and it is time for me to do some serious temple keeping.

I'll post stats tomorrow, once I have them (I do a doctor-led weigh in tomorrow). Right now, I'm posting pictures. That's me, from just a couple of days ago (sorry, the photographer was a bit shorter than me and moving a lot... thanks girltwin!).

There are good things I see when I look at that picture. First, I see someone who is smiling, a real smile and not a "put it on while the picture is being snapped" smile. My life is good, and that's one thing that makes this diet very different from others. The support I have from family and friends right now is just incredible, and I'm hoping that support is going to be a real clincher in this fight against pounds. Another good thing is that my hair is growing, my nails are healthy, and my eyes are bright. I'm not UNhealthy, I'm just not as healthy as I should be.

The side view never pleases me. I'm an apple when it comes to body shape, and I carry all my weight in my belly. If I wanted to be charitable I'd say I look somewhat pregnant. The bottom line is that I'm overweight, and for quite some time now I've officially been considered obese.

I'm supposed to have goals for this diet, and I really don't want to make them "poundage" goals. The scale lies, because as I get healthier I expect to start weight lifting again, and my "weight loss" will slow down a lot, because muscle weighs considerably more than fat. So no pounds (although I'll be posting my actual weight after each of my official weigh-in's). Instead, I want to make goals that are visual and physical based.

First, I want there to be a separation between my boobs and my belly. At one time, my boobs were... freestanding, for lack of a better word. Now, they just kind of blend into my belly. So, I want the belly small enough that the boobs actually stand up and look purty.

Second, I want to stop hurting all the time. I realize that some of my aches and pains aren't going to disappear no matter how much weight I lose (the broken ankle is always going to ache when there's a pressure change, for instance). However, I'd guess that a lot more than half of my aches and pains are directly related to my weight. So, I want to be able to get up in the morning and walk downstairs instead of limping and hanging onto the banister for dear life. I want my ankles to have a lot less pressure on them, making me that much less likely to trip and fall and hurt myself yet again.

Third, I want to go back to having one chin, and a real neck. My face has always held weight, and I'm not expecting miracles. However, in this picture my double chin is quite obvious... and I was trying to suck up for the photo.

Fourth, I want desperately to be healthy enough and in low enough pain (or pain free, if I dare wish and hope) that I can go back to weight lifting. I used to love doing weight lifting, circuit training and free weights both. It made me feel good. It made me sweat and ache in a good way. I don't care if I'm the only fat girl in the weight room. That doesn't bother me one bit. It's that right now I'm not healthy enough to even go in the weight room at all.

Fifth, I want to try and do Zumba. I love dancing, and I love music, and it just seems to me that it would be a fun thing to do. I've watched the kids do it. I've seen videos. But right now, both the doc and I are concerned I'd trip, turn my ankle, and end up in a cast again. This would be a bad thing. So even though this isn't a listing of pounds, I need to be down below 200 lbs in order to start Zumba safely, so that's my fifth goal.

I have others. I'd love to get my weight down below 160. It would be great to be in shape enough to get a bicycle and ride it all around to the various churches and places I serve. Maybe I can learn to actually *run* on a treadmill instead of just walking and hoping I don't fall.

Right now, though, my main goal is to make it through the next six weeks. I want to be strong emotionally and physically. I want to keep it together, deal with the extremely low daily calories allowed, and sail through the VLCD portion of the program. I want to not only survive, but to thrive. Whew. Wish me luck...

Me-Time

It's cold in the mornings, now. The temperature in the house drops into the low 50s during the night, and the grass outside is crunchy with frost. It is weather that encourages you to cuddle back under the comforter, tucking the flannel sheets around you and a partner. It's weather that calls for steaming mugs of sweet coffee in the morning, and fragrant herbal teas in the evenings. It's cold enough for sweaters, but not cold enough to warrant turning on the heat or pulling out the winter jackets. It's . . . perfect.

This is my favorite time of year, which I cherish as the leaves turn and fall, the chipmunks scurry around with bulging cheeks full of nuts and stolen vegetables from the garden. My tomatoes are done, as are the green beans. It's time to harvest what's left, except for the few staying on the vine to dry for seed for next year. It's time to invest in mums and pumpkins and Indian corn.

It's also my favorite time of year because I'm still organized. I always go into a frenzy of organization for kids returning to school, and my schedules haven't broken down yet. By 8:30am, everyone is gone from the house and I settle myself down with a cup of coffee and the morning news. I play meditation music and take a half hour all to myself. Some days it feels like stolen moments of heaven. Other times, I find it hard to get past the guilt of taking me-time when I should be doing dishes or laundry or organizing the pantry. Those me-times are important, too, though. Some days, mostly the days when I feel guilty about it, the me-time is VERY necessary.

Taking time for the self is such a hard thing, especially in our North American Hustle'n'Bustle society. There's this idea that we have to be Doing Something every minute of the day. We're no longer driven by the need to accomplish X or Y or Z. Instead, we're just driven, pushed to unendingly grind against the world, not stopping because there's literally so much work to be done that to dare take time for the self is to take time away from giving to everyone else. Children and employees are no longer rated on what they learn or receive praise for completing work early. Instead, they're simply handed the next task, without a thank you or a good word.

So how do we get out of our self-made trap? Dare to take some me-time. Be a rebel, and spend five minutes in meditation. Be alright with showing up 15 minutes late to your next task if it means you get what you need.

We see it all the time, what I call "the oxygen mask notice." We have to take care of ourselves first and foremost, because if we don't, we won't be able to help others. In not taking me-time, we're crippling our ability to be there for our family and friends. The down time that allows our souls and hearts to heal, rest, and rejuvenate is absolutely necessary.

So stop and look at the field of golden grain down the road. Pick apples and then sit under the tree and eat one while you scan the newspaper. Take a hot bath with a cup of tea, and let the water sooth you inside and out. Shut the rest of the world out for just a little while, and let yourself be content with relaxing.

It's okay. You have permission.

Check back often for book reviews, prayers, ceremonies and more. If you have questions or comments, please write to me below. I love to answer questions! You can follow the blog via Network Blogs and Google Friend Connect. If you purchase items I have linked through Amazon or the ads on my site, I receive an affiliate portion of the sale. If you find the items are useful, please purchase from/through my site! 

You may also be interested in:

Oops . . .

Review - Griefwalker
Patchwork Interfaith Community
When people ask for prayer
Grace Bombs


Images from Unsplash.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Ooops...?

Ganesh
Apparently this is NOT the summer of blogging. That would be last year, when I was somehow able to juggle a lot more than I did this year. This year, the garden is full of weeds, my daytimer is full to brimming, and I can't seem to fit a spare minute in to blog here. I'm doing my best not to feel guilty, but I'm failing pretty spectacularly. Oh well.

The summer has been a good one, if a bit odd. The garden got in very late thanks to cold and snow and rain and then blazing hot temperatures. I just wasn't sure when to plant what, and I also got behind in putting together the extra raised beds. I had been hoping for more help in the garden, and it didn't arrive, and so rather than buckle down, I kind of buckled under, instead. It's producing, but it isn't the kind of garden I envisioned, by any means.

I haven't done any weddings this summer, but I did attend my first wedding expo, which was a blast. I founded the Interfaith Patchwork Community, which may or may not take off but which I have invested a lot of heart and time into. I'm attempting to do interfaith services every second Sunday at 1pm at a local venue. Right now, with so few attending and no money coming in, it's happening at local parks and at the Cathedral of the Pines, where I don't have to pay to host it. Of course, that's going to change as winter sets in, so we'll see what happens. I do hope it continues to grow, even if slowly.

I went to Greenport, NY in August to see a seminary classmate in Henry V, which I really enjoyed. The following day, we wandered around the tourist spots in Greenport, and I picked up the pretty Ganesh figurine you see above. He's really tiny, only about an inch or so high, but he sits just right on my computer. I'm hoping that he'll help me overcome a few personal obstacles as my life progresses.

There... I've blogged *something* now. ;)

Check back often for book reviews, prayers, ceremonies and more. If you have questions or comments, please write to me below. I love to answer questions! You can follow the blog via Network Blogs and Google Friend Connect. If you purchase items I have linked through Amazon or the ads on my site, I receive an affiliate portion of the sale. If you find the items are useful, please purchase from my site! 

You may also be interested in:

Check back often for book reviews, prayers, ceremonies and more. If you have questions or comments, please write to me below. I love to answer questions! You can follow the blog via Network Blogs and Google Friend Connect. If you purchase items I have linked through Amazon or the ads on my site, I receive an affiliate portion of the sale. If you find the items are useful, please purchase from my site! 

You may also be interested in:


Review - Griefwalker
Patchwork Interfaith Community
When people ask for prayer
Grace Bombs
Mary Magdalene - the mystery woman

Friday, July 12, 2013

Review - Griefwalker

Griefwalker (1)
I'm not sure what called me to watch Griefwalker, written and directed by Tim Wilson. It is a very blunt film about end of life, grief, and death. The focus of the film is Stephen Jenkinson, a teacher, author, storyteller, spiritual activist, ceremonialist and founder of the Orphan Wisdom School.
"The cradle of your love of life, is death." - Steve Jenkinson
Tim Wilson takes us on an incredible journey that leads us to look intensively at the process of dying in North American culture. He questions, do we ever really die, or do we simply deny it, claiming it as something that happens to other people, to everyone but us?

One of the things that Steve Jenkinson talks about in this documentary is the idea that pain management in hospitals has actually caused an epidemic of anxiety and toxic fear in patients. At one time, when pain was less well managed, it was a signal that death was coming, that it was immanent. Now, with no pain involved, there's no connection with the death that is coming. Patient and family alike push it away, deny it.

Graves in Salem, MA
 Add to that, according to Jenkinson, if you ask patients, 8 out of 10 say that they most fear the pain and suffering of the dying process, saying, "I don't want it to hurt." However, even though the pain has been managed efficiently, the fear doesn't actually stop. Pain meds don't touch on what people are really afraid of: death.

Depression is rampant among the dying in North American culture, and Steve feels much of it is because we don't actually know we're dying. In "less developed" countries, where care is more about comfort than pain management, there's a healthier view of  the process of dying.

Steve's job is to confront people about death and dying, challenging them to face death instead of turning away from it. He helps them bring it into the open and accept it psychologically. By doing so, he helps patients to come out of the fear, and into a place of acceptance, and often, of peace.

As he explains, Steve says that the terror about death is there whether people experience pain or not. "There are no atheists in foxholes," he points out, and explains that as people progress through the stages of terminal illnesses, they begin to believe in something greater than themselves. This becomes worry that family and friends will treat them badly after they're gone, or even that they will somehow be punished for their actions in life.

In a touching segment, Steve helps the family of a little girl come to terms with their daughter's immanent death. She had been living transfusion to transfusion, and Steve asked them a very difficult and painful question: why? They were continuing the terrible cycle of keeping their child alive not because there was any hope of a miracle cure, but because they simply couldn't let go. Every time they initiated a transfusion, they lost a little more of their daughter.

Grave in Salem, MA
She eventually went home with her grieving parents. Instead of dying amidst the sterile hospital routine, she died in her mother's arms. They created new rituals to replace the hospital ones, rituals where they all laughed, played, and enjoyed the final days of her life. There was no one around anymore to shush her or tell her to reserve her strength for ... whatever. Instead, she giggled hysterically and made faces with her parents, and quietly died at home.


At a hospital, the parents would have been forcibly removed from their child as nurses applied more and more measures to attempt to stretch out an already thin and fraying life. Instead, at home and in comfort, they could hold her, be with her, and let her know to the very end just how much her tiny life was cherished. And then they could grieve, right there at home, not with dozens of machines and sympathetic but harried nurses and doctors around, but in privacy. They met their child's death head on, unafraid.

This documentary was incredibly respectful of the people in it. The families and those who were dying were treated with great reverence and care. Yet, at no point did it try to hide any aspect of death. There was pain, and fear, and worry, and tears, and grief. All of it was accepted, no questions asked. In a way, it seemed to hallow the deaths that were shared.

Steve says that you have to understand that life is bigger than your own life span.  It extends into the past and future, far beyond your own personal existence. "Grief is a skill," says Steve. "It is the ability to praise and love life." In accepting that you will die, that each of us will die, we become more able to truly live.

This documentary deserves the five stars I am giving it. I was held in the movie from beginning to end. It challenged me to think a lot about my own death, and my life.

Check back often for book reviews, prayers, ceremonies and more. If you have questions or comments, please write to me below. I love to answer questions! You can follow the blog via Network Blogs and Google Friend Connect. If you purchase items I have linked through Amazon or the ads on my site, I receive an affiliate portion of the sale. If you find the items are useful, please purchase from my site! 

You may also be interested in:

Patchwork Interfaith Community
When people ask for prayer
Grace Bombs
Mary Magdalene - the mystery woman
Working at Cathedral of the Pines 


1) Image from amazon.com

Friday, June 7, 2013

Hildegard von Bingen

Hildegarde von Bingen (1)
A review of Vision - From the Life of Hildegard von Bingen.

"The last night of the first millennium..." So begins this documentary/movie on the life of the 12th Century saint. A dingy, tiny church is shown, crowded with German believers. They grovel, cry, cling together as a priest tells them it is their last night on earth. Come morning, the sun rose, and no one knew what to make of it. Life went on, but from that frightening night came the little girl who would grow to be Hildegarde von Bingen, one of the most revered female saints in Christendom.

The film is in German with English subtitles, but is well worth the watch. The history is shown colorfully, in a way that will engage the viewer intimately. The details of Hildegarde's childhood are covered briefly, skipping to her life beginning at age 30. (For a full history of Saint Hildegarde, please refer to Sabina Flanagan's excellent work.)

So much is covered in exquisite detail that it's difficult to explain. Her visions are never depicted as showy but as bright lights that conveyed knowledge in a way only she understood. At the urging of her inner visions, she applies herself to learning healing through the use of herbs, music, prayer, and crystals. She eventually becomes the new Mother of the convent, and passes on to her own charges that healing can only come when one is in balance with both nature and God.

Liber Scivias (2)
For the first 40 years of her life, she hid her visions from all but two people. It was her belief that during one of her visions, she was specifically commanded to write down what she was learning, that others might benefit from it as well. That was the beginning of her first book.

Much of the movie centers around her extreme love for her young protégé Richardis. It sometimes appears that this love is more intense than might be proper in a convent, but as the story develops we learn just how important Richardis and her support are for Hildegarde. When Richardis is later removed from Hildegarde's convent to become Abbess elsewhere, the young girl pines away and eventually dies, something Hildegarde predicted.

The movie ends frustratingly when Hildegarde is taken by another illness and almost dies. She is sent back by angels, her job not yet finished. When asked why she was sent back, she explains that she has more to do, and that she will be travelling around to preach. Unheard of at the time, this shocks many people.

If you are new to studying Hildegarde von Bingen, this is a fascinating and well developed documentary/historical fiction that presents the important features of her life. You'll gain enough information to begin a further, more in depth study of her life, visions, music and religious beliefs. I give this movie four stars!

Check back often for prayers, spiritual musings and all manner of religious discussion and talk. If you have questions or comments, please write to me below. I love to answer questions! If you purchase items I have linked through ads or Amazon, I receive an affiliate portion of the sale. If you find the items are useful, please purchase from my site!
 
You may also be interested in:

Terrorism
Why have/be a minister?
Spring has sprung!
Kumaré
How to teach your sons about consent

1) Image from IMDB.com
2) Image from  Wikimedia Commons (PD-OLD)

Friday, May 24, 2013

Terrorism

New York City Fire Chief addresses firefighters, 9/11 (1)
Terrorism is not something I ever expected to have to deal with at home. I grew up in a world where we played outside until the street lights came on, and the only caveat was that we had to be close enough to hear when the parents started calling for us. We tumbled out the door at dawn and came back in time for lunch, then we were out again until supper. Our parents never knew our whereabouts, and we were happy with it that way.

I wish we could give that same freedom to our children, but we can't. Children left outside for hours at a time like that often go missing. The world we live in today is not child friendly. It is not a good world.

Boston bombings 2013 (2)
Two days ago, a British soldier was walking on a London street and was beheaded by two radical Islamic men. Only a few weeks ago, hundreds of people were injured and killed during the bombing of the finish line of the Boston Marathon, something also linked to radical Islamic beliefs. These two geographically disparate events don't seem to be much connected, except by the radicals who performed them, and even there, the men weren't connected in any known way. They were "lone wolves" who worked on their own with only a bit of urging from terrorists in the Middle East.

Terrorism has always been something that "happened over there." You just don't see bombings and shootings in the streets of North America. Except that now you do. We have mass shootings in our schools, radical Christians spouting hatred on the internet, and riots across the continent.

At one time, I would have donned my priestess robes, picked up a flower, and declared, "Give peace a chance." That flower child is long gone, my friends. I still believe that we can largely live in peace on this rather small globe, even with all our differences. It isn't going to be easy, though, and it's going to mean doing some pretty drastic things, things that the general public is not going to like.

Women in burkas, 2003 (3)
The current concern about Muslim terrorists and extremists is that they hide in plain sight. Just as you can't look at a Christian and tell if she's Lutheran, Unitarian, Catholic or UCC, you can't tell by looking whether a Muslim is an extremist or not. Most Muslim men wear head coverings, and have a beard, regardless of their type of belief. Muslim women dress very modestly, often covering their hair and sometimes other parts of their bodies, and this is true of extremists and moderates. So how do we know who to be afraid of?

The problem is that we don't know. There is no easy way to point and say, "That's the bad guy." The knee jerk reaction lately has been to label all Muslims as suspect, and to avoid them and persecute them. I don't see that as an acceptable answer, especially in this country. America is the great melting pot, and if we begin to persecute people because of their religious beliefs, then we become like the beast we're trying to conquer. We cannot in good faith descend into that pit.

Osama bin Laden, 2011 (4)
On the other side of that, we can't just stand around twiddling our thumbs and saying it's an isolated incident. That's simply no longer true. There are radical Muslims in this country and others, and they are hell bent on destroying western culture and life.

It's my opinion that we need to treat these radicals (and by that, I mean ALL radicals, be they from Christian, Muslim, Jewish, or other background) as the criminals they are. We don't have laws prohibiting the practice of Islam, nor should we. But we certainly have laws prohibiting murder, rape, torture, and terrorism. Let's exercise these laws to the fullest extent. The problem is not the religion itself, but the thought patterns amongst the radicalized men and women in their various religions.

What we need to avoid is the "us or them" thought pattern. That is inherently what leads to radicalism. We need to internalize that there is no "all Muslims" anymore than there is "all Christians" or "all Democrats" or "all women." These defined and labelled groups do not exist. Those Muslims, Christians, Democrats, women, and others who choose to flout the laws of this land or who espouse a viewpoint that is damaging on a cellular level to the American way of life, should be carefully monitored.

Is it profiling? It may be. Profiling was created for a reason, and it isn't a bad thing on its own. Profiles let us know what sort of people to look for based upon the crimes committed. It's useful. The good profile becomes useless, though, when it is ignored or distorted. New methods of profiling should be examined and tried.

Five years ago, extremist Muslim behavior brought almost no sound out of the greater Muslim community in North America. All you could hear were crickets. Today, though, that is changing. Throughout the world, Muslim leaders outside of the Middle East are standing up and speaking vehemently against the violence of their extremist brethren. This is such a huge step forward. It can't be praised enough.

When Westboro Baptist pickets a soldier's funeral because of some perceived fault, thousands of counter-protesters arrive to block WB's ability to cause a ruckus. Other Christians readily denounce them as radicals, extremists, and as people with very little understanding of their holy book. When Muslims can do the same, the world will be a little better, a little safer place to live.

Check back often for prayers, spiritual musings and all manner of religious discussion and talk. If you have questions or comments, please write to me below. I love to answer questions! If you purchase items I have linked through ads or Amazon, I receive an affiliate portion of the sale. If you find the items are useful, please purchase from my site!
 
You may also be interested in:

Why have/be a minister?
Spring has sprung!
Kumaré
How to teach your sons about consent
Twelve Steps to Freedom

1) Image by Andrea Booher, FEMA photo library (Wikimedia Commons)
2) Image by Aaron Tang (Wikimedia Commons)
3) Image by Nitin Madhav, USAID (Wikimedia Commons)
4) Image by U. S. Federal Government (Wikimedia Commons)

Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Hekatean Prayer and Ritual Book: Call for Submissions | The Crossroads Companion

The Hekatean Prayer and Ritual Book: Call for Submissions | The Crossroads Companion

For those who follow the call of Hecate, this may be of interest to you. I am thinking of submitting one of my prayer calls to this endeavor. :)

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Why have (or be) a minister? Glad you asked!

morgueFree images
The history of spirituality and religion is a rocky one, fraught with half-truths and misleading information. While we can grasp the big picture about religion's history, it's almost impossible to get a good, solid grasp on where it started or why.

One thing we do know is that, at one time, people connected with the gods on their own. They would call on whatever tribal or local god or goddess they needed, or the spirit of the element they were concerned with, and they would interact with that being themselves. At some point, though, leaders came along who began telling other people what the gods wanted. And things changed...

Fast forward to modern times, and there's a minister, priest, rabbi or pastor on every corner. Some are self-supporting, and others are not. They all follow different rules in regards to food, clothing, shelter, sexual conduct, and worship. What ties us all together is the fact that, on some level, every single spiritual leader acts as an intermediary between a person and the Divine.

Ordination
This is not to say that people can't interact with the All on their own. I'm a firm proponent of the idea that most of a person's interactions with the All should be on their own. Still, there are some times when having a guide, someone to hold your hand as you experience life's twists and turns, is both comforting and necessary.

Funerals are one of the best examples I can think of when having that intermediary is important. When you are experiencing the grief associated with the loss of a friend or family member, it's difficult to be doing all the necessary paperwork, comforting others, and writing a eulogy all at the same time as crying into your pillow at night. This can be doubly complicated if feelings for or about the deceased are less than friendly, as it can evoke guilt and anger, both which can seem inappropriate during funeral rites. A minister (or other spiritual leader) can gently guide you in your decisions and help you navigate the family and paperwork involved.

Those ministers who feel that they are some kind of gateway to God tend to really bother me. It often feels as if they think they're as important as God, or maybe MORE important! It seems to me that they're more interested in controlling than in helping and comforting. After all, if you've learned that the only way to God is through a single person, that person holds power over you. They hold the power to separate you from your Higher Power.

Cathedral of the Pines
So why have a minister at all? Why not just be a free-lance person being spiritual? Well, that is always an option. Some people do just fine that way. Humans, though, are a social group. We like to associate with others. If you have a group of people who are all priests, trying to lead at the same time, you end up with chaos and no one gets to commune with Goddess.

On the other hand, if you can choose one person to lead, things can improve. Leadership need not be by someone who graduated from seminary or divinity school. It does help to have some training, though, especially if the group is larger than a handful. There's a lot of work to organizing a large group of disparate people into a cohesive unit.

In ancient Rome and Greece, many people took a turn being the priest in the temple. It was considered a public service, something done to show piety, honor to the gods, and good will to the community as a whole. In more recent times, spiritual leadership has taken a more permanent role, with people taking training either one-on-one (as in Wicca and some shamanistic systems) or in groups (such as Harvard Divinity or Andover-Newton).

Worshiping alone
Even people who do the majority of their worship alone, tend to enjoy getting together with like-minded individuals to share major holy days or to grieve in groups. It's a natural human rhythm to seek out others during times of extreme joy or pain. It is not unusual for people to work together for certain celebrations.

No matter how you look at it, though, the spiritual leader is really only a guide. His or her job is simply to walk beside you as you travel the path you've chosen. There will be times when a solitary journey suits you better, and times when you clasp the proffered hand with relief. Needing or wanting that spiritual leader to be nearby is not a bad thing, so long as you don't lose your own connection to the Divine.

Looked at another way, if you had a physical emergency you would not want to be performing surgery on yourself. Spiritual emergencies can be just as life threatening, and having a qualified professional present can make all the difference in the world.

Do you have a spiritual authority or leader in your life who helps you out when times are rough? Are you a spiritual leader for others?

Check back often for prayers, spiritual musings and all manner of religious discussion and talk. If you have questions or comments, please write to me below. I love to answer questions! If you purchase items I have linked through ads or Amazon, I receive an affiliate portion of the sale. If you find the items are useful, please purchase from my site!
 
You may also be interested in:

Spring has sprung!
Kumaré
How to teach your sons about consent
Twelve Steps to Freedom
Being the better person



Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Spring has sprung!

Zen Garden at Cathedral of the Pines
The world is a busy place right now, but it's wonderful, too. We're spring cleaning, doing laundry galore as we pull out the spring and summer clothes, and getting the garden ready for new life. I'm all a dither as I run from one chore to another, and sometimes it feels like I get nothing done at all. Heck, sometimes I really don't get anything done at all!

Chives in my herb garden
For me, this is the time when my spiritual life switches from the solitude and silence of winter to the hustle and bustle of summer. Summer meditations are all about movement and sunlight. While winter prayers are inside, summer ones are outside with the wind in my hair and a sunburn blossoming on my shoulders.

In conjunction with the theme of movement and new growth, I've decided to put together a monthly (online) newsletter. If you're interested, you can sign up on my website. It won't be huge, but it'll include some unique articles, links to relevant articles, and photographs. It'll also include any dates I have planned at Cathedral of the Pines or elsewhere, so if local people want to meet up with me, they'll know how to do so.

Kale, reaching for the sun
So... if you want to hear about spring prayer and volunteering as sacrifice, sign up today! The newsletter will go out around the first Friday of each month.

Check back often for prayers, spiritual musings and all manner of religious discussion and talk. If you have questions or comments, please write to me below. I love to answer questions! If you purchase items I have linked through ads or Amazon, I receive an affiliate portion of the sale. If you find the items are useful, please purchase from my site!
 
You may also be interested in:

Kumaré
How to teach your sons about consent
Twelve Steps to Freedom
Being the better person
Taking offense

Friday, April 19, 2013

Kumaré

The other night, I went up to bed a little early and decided to watch a documentary on my tablet. I zipped through the offerings on Netflix and discovered one called Kumaré. The IMDB describes it thus:

"A documentary about a man who impersonates a wise Indian Guru and builds a following in Arizona. At the height of his popularity, the Guru Kumaré must reveal his true identity to his disciples and unveil his greatest teaching of all."

It sounded intriguing and not too pressing. I thought it would be amusing if nothing else. I had been looking for an easy watch, something that I could relax and just soak up. This was not that movie, but I don't regret a single moment of watching it. Indeed, I ended up staying awake almost an hour later than I should have, to watch the end of it.

Our story's "guru" grew up in a Hindu household, attended many rituals, studied religion in university, and discovered that he might just be an atheist.  He did a lot of background research, visiting religious and spiritual leaders around the world. He then set himself up with a couple of pretty young ladies to become Kumaré.

They start with a detailed background of coming from a small village in India, and move on to getting him teaching time at a variety of local ashrams and yoga studios. He speaks in a fake Indian accent (though it's well done), punctuated with foreign words. Honestly, at the very beginning he does look rather fake to me.

Still, what he's teaching isn't wrong. He teaches that religious and spiritual leaders are all fakes, himself especially. He's not trying to dis ministers and priests and such, but more to point out that they're just guides and the impetus and spirituality comes from within. He continues his teachings, getting deeper and deeper with his students.

There's a point at which he's a well accepted teacher, and his core students begin to seek him out for counselling. He does what all good counselors do - he says things like, "Hm... and what do you think of that?" He answers questions with questions. He challenges the students to find their own answers. And they thank him for his deep wisdom and feel that they've gotten something incredibly potent.

The documentary is fascinating, both in its coverage of the students and how they integrate themselves into the practices of Kumaré, and Kumaré himself and how he finds his own way thanks to his students. The ending was surprising, not in its function (he reveals himself to his students eventually) but in the response of the students to that revelation.

I highly recommend this movie to anyone who has an interest in religious or spiritual leaders or teachings. It's incredibly well put together, and is very touching. Kumaré holds nothing back at the end, and talks a lot about how his "expose" film turned into a spiritual journey for himself.

     Five stars!


Check back often for prayers, spiritual musings and all manner of religious discussion and talk. If you have questions or comments, please write to me below. I love to answer questions! If you purchase items I have linked through ads or Amazon, I receive an affiliate portion of the sale. If you find the items are useful, please purchase from my site!
 
You may also be interested in:

How to teach your sons about consent
Twelve Steps to Freedom
Being the better person
Taking offense
Ash Wednesday invitation

Monday, March 18, 2013

How to Teach Your Sons About Consent* | The Polyamorous Misanthrope

How to Teach Your Sons About Consent* | The Polyamorous Misanthrope

This is truly beautiful. Look her in the eye and ask if she grants consent. If she can't look you in the eye back and say a wholehearted yes, then she isn't consenting.

Note to the universe: this also applies in reverse, and there ARE males who aren't consenting. Having your body react favorably to provided stimuli is NOT CONSENT. That's simply a hormonal reaction, and quite a lot of the time you can't control it. The closer to your teen years, the less control you have over it.

The same is true, I have found, when you're approaching menopause. My hormones go nuts over stuff that would otherwise have me backing away with my eyes closed. I am not my hormones, though. I know what is appropriate and what is not. I expect our young people to know what is appropriate and what is not. It's not brain surgery.

Check back often for prayers, spiritual musings and all manner of religious discussion and talk. If you have questions or comments, please write to me below. I love to answer questions! If you purchase items I have linked through ads or Amazon, I receive an affiliate portion of the sale. If you find the items are useful, please purchase from my site!
 
You may also be interested in:

 Twelve Steps to Freedom
Being the better person
Taking offense
Ash Wednesday invitation
Short-cuts to thinking

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Twelve Steps to Freedom

Alcohol addiction (1)
Many years ago, I went through a period where I thought I was alcoholic. I was dating someone who had been in AA and recovery for several years, and he was very careful not to pressure me or make me feel bad. After a particularly bad night of drinking, and a few rather embarrassing episodes later, I asked him if he thought I was an alcoholic. His response stayed with me: people who are healthy and don't have these problems don't stay up worrying about whether they're alcoholic or not.

I started going to meetings. I gave up drinking for eight years. I followed the 12 Steps, read the Big Book, got a sponsor, and did all the proper things. My life got better, but my problems weren't solved. The problem, for me, was not alcohol. The problem ran very deep, and alcohol was just one way I tried to self-medicate myself.

Narcotic addiction (2)
Though I stepped away from AA many years ago, I still value the life lessons I learned there. The methods of self-examination, of believing in something greater than yourself, these were wonderful tools that I think all people should use. I'm not powerless over alcohol, but I am powerless over something else, and that's okay. Realizing what I was actually powerless over gave me a huge measure of freedom. It allowed me to attend Seminary, to live a better life, and to find a freedom that I never thought was possible.

So what are these Twelve Steps that everyone talks about? I'm going to take out the parts about alcohol for the purpose of writing today in a more generic way. Feel free to add in whatever it is you're powerless over: your eating, your smoking, your parents... The object can be anything. I'm also going to make the more religious parts a bit less Christian and a bit more accessible. While AA is open to everyone, it does have a rather Judeo-Christian feel to it, and sometimes that puts people off. I don't want anyone to be put off because of the tool I'm sharing today. Please remember that it's the tool that's important, not the person who made it.

The Twelve Steps, adapted from Alcoholics Anonymous

1. We admitted we were powerless over (something), and that our lives had become unmanageable.

2. We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

3. We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of Deity, as we personally understood Deity.

4. We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

5. We admitted to Deity, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

6. We were entirely ready to have Deity remove all these defects of character.

7. We humbly asked Deity to remove our shortcomings.

8. We made a list of all the persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.

9. We made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

10. We continued to take personal inventory, and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.

11. We sought through prayer and meditate to improve our conscious contact with Deity, as we understood Deity, praying only for knowledge of Deity's will for us and the power to carry that out.

12. Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these Steps, we tried to carry this message to others, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

Heck of a list, isn't it? Some of it makes you recoil, especially if you're not Christian, Muslim or Jewish. Not all people see Deity as interacting with us, either for good or ill, and many don't see Deity as having the power or desire to remove shortcomings from people.  I still maintain that these Steps are a guideline for a better life.

Cigarettes and coffee (3)
Once, at a meeting, I heard someone make the comment that they didn't believe in any Higher Power. A grizzled older gentleman turned in his seat and said something to the effect that when you're face down in a toilet, pretty much everything in the world is a higher power than YOU are. Of course, we all laughed, but it did make me think. I knew atheists who had followed the AA program and done quite well. I know many pagans, as well, who have turned their life around through NA or AA or OA. There is something to this series of actions that goes beyond the religious and far off into the realm of spirituality.

The first Step often makes people stumble. It sure isn't comfortable admitting that you're powerless over something. The skeptic will say that all you're doing is giving up your will power to something or someone else, be it God or the group. That's not true, though, at least as I see and practice it. The first Step is the moment when you realize that you're out of control, and the very definition of "out of control" is to be powerless. By stating it, by speaking the words out loud, you take the first baby step toward regaining the power that has been stripped from you by whatever it is you're combating.

I'm powerless over my mother. For a very long time, I just saw her as abusive and horrid and nasty. Then I spent a long time pretending she didn't exist. Neither of these were practical methods for dealing with my own lack of power. When I finally realized just how powerless I was over her, I gained my own freedom. This is not to say she can't touch me anymore; she's my mother, and she'll always have the power to hurt me emotionally. I realize now, though, that the problems are hers, not mine, and that I need to deal with my own issues. I don't need to carry hers, nor do I need to impress her or attempt to "make" her love me.

Misuse of legal drugs (4)
The second and third Steps ware very organic for me. I turned to my Deity, to my spirituality, and asked for help. It was given, in small doses that I could accept. After years of practice, of trusting and working and believing, I am now understanding just how sane I can be when I depend on myself and on Deity as I understand her. In retrospect, I can look and see where my life was touched, molded, kept on tract despite my own blindness to where I needed to be. I see those moments as the hallmarks of Deity, keeping me on the path I need to be on.

When most people reach the fourth Step, they balk. What does it mean, "searching and fearless moral inventory"? I mean, let's be real. If I was able to search and be fearless, I probably wouldn't be working the Twelve Steps, right? WRONG! When Dr. Bob and Bill W. wrote the Steps, I don't believe they used "fearless" in the sense of being completely without fear. I think they meant "courageous" in that we need to be honest with ourselves, not shy away from uncomfortable truths, moving always forward even when it's scary.

Inventories are important, though. Why do you think stores do them? They need to see what is on the shelves, whether those items are good or bad, how much they need to replenish, and what they're good with. We can do the same with our own internal selves. I look at my morals and ethics, at my actions over the past year, and I ask myself where I did well and where I needed improvement. I write it all down, all the pros and cons. Yes, you have to write down the good things as well as the bad, or it isn't a true inventory of yourself! Sometimes, I find that part harder than picking out the negatives.

Having made that inventory, now we have to go and talk to our Manager, Deity in whatever form we see it, them, him or her. That's not enough, though, according to the Steps. The fifth Step tells us to not only tell Deity, but to tell ourselves, and another living, breathing person. Reading my inventory to myself, out loud, is one of the most disturbing things I have ever done. It's gotten easier over the years, but that first time is still very clear in my mind.

You can sometimes lie to yourself, and in doing so, lie to your Higher Power. Sometimes it's on purpose, and sometimes it's not, but it happens. That's where the other human comes in. In AA, you're encouraged to share your wrongs with your Sponsor or another alcoholic. I assume it's the same in NA and OA. Some people choose to talk to a priest or minister, knowing that it's private and confidential. In a way, though, after saying out loud to yourself, talking to someone else isn't so difficult. My first time I talked to my Sponsor, and he gave me quite a few skeptical looks which led me to revise my inventory just a bit. I hadn't outright lied, but I had skimmed over important things because they caused me so much discomfort. You can't leave metaphorical rotting food on your shelves, though. It must be thrown away, purged. That's what the other human being does. They give you a hand getting some of those really heavy rotten items down off the high shelves.

Steps six and seven are related, and there's a relief that happens after the fourth and fifth Steps that segues neatly into these. Now that you can see all those negatives (and the positives), you can stand there with an open heart and admit them, and ask that they be removed. This is not a magical spell, though, where defects are just excised from the body and mind. The work and responsibility is yours and yours alone. However, Deity helps, whether by stiffening your upper lip, holding your hand, or putting you into situations that allow you to do what needs to be done. Here, you are taking back a little of the power that you lost through your previous actions or inactions.

Gambling addiction (5)
The eighth and ninth steps are easy to misunderstand. It seems simple: make a list of all the people you managed to screw up, and go say sorry. It isn't that easy, though. There are subtleties to the making of amends. The list is probably easy enough to make, just by looking over the negatives in your moral inventory. You probably have a pretty good idea of who you've hurt over the years. Saying sorry is not enough, though. This is not about apologizing, but about making amends. If you stole money, it should be returned along with the admittance of guilt and the paying of whatever price comes along with that.

What happens, though, if the person you need to make amends to is dead? What if making amends will cause them physical or emotional harm? You must remember that making amends is NOT ABOUT YOU, but about the other person. If you find yourself trying to do it in order to feel better, you're doing it wrong. Feeling better about yourself is a side-effect of making amends, but it is not the point. In many cases, you'll feel worse for quite a while.

I owed money to someone who had passed on, and so I made a donation to their favorite cause in the amount plus interest. I did this along with the daughter of the person, because it helped her to understand some of what went on between me and her mother, and brought her closure. Had it been likely to cause her to suffer, I would have done it another way.

Another side of this is that you can't expect amends in return. You might get them, and that's great, but you cannot go into this Step wanting something back. I needed to make amends to my mother for some of the things that I did as a child and young woman. This wasn't about how she treated me, or what she said or did to me. It was about MY actions and MY words, and the things I had done to her that caused her harm. It ached, because I could so easily point to my actions and then to the thing she had done to spark my retaliation. But that shifts the blame. This wasn't about her negative actions; it was about mine. Due to the way our relationship goes, I couldn't make direct amends to her. Instead, I did a variety of volunteer things, in honor of her. It hurt, it ached, and when I was done I felt cleansed and whole. I regret only that she can't know about it, because it would cause her more harm than help.

The tenth Step wants us to keep making those moral inventories on a regular basis. Keep pausing now and again, looking at the inventory and deciding what needs to go. The best thing about the tenth Step is that once you've finished that huge clean-out in the fourth and fifth, you have the opportunity to do it often enough that the internal moral shelves never get that littered with filth again. You get to clean up once a year instead of once a decade. It's a feeling of relief, and of wholeness.

When we reach the eleventh Step, we go back to the work-oriented program. Prayer, meditation, reflection, and self-actualization are the points of this Step. Because it comes after all the other messy stuff, it's not as hard as it would be if we tried it way back at the first Step. Still, it's not easy. It's worth it, though. That conscious contact with Deity is fulfilling, inspiring, and brings with it health and joy. When your mind rests once a day on that which you consider Holy, then the Holy enters your life more and more.

The twelfth Step is the last, and is both a summation and a promise to keep on keeping on. If we haven't yet had a spiritual awakening, it's time to go back to the first Step and work through them again. It might take several iterations before you have that spiritual awakening, even if you're very religious or spiritual in general. That's okay! The Steps are meant to be repeated, worked on, and worked through. Like all steps, sometimes you go up them, and other times you find you're going down them. You can always go up again, though!

The idea of sharing the Steps with others causes some people to shy away. It reeks of evangelism, and that can be problematic. The sharing that is referred to is not meant to be a pushing of the Steps on others, though. As you work the Steps, you will find that you gain a joy of life that you thought you'd lost. Others will see it and ask why, and you can tell them. Be respectful, don't push it on them, but don't be afraid to share when asked. They will want to know the secret to your happiness, and it's perfectly alright to let them know.

You don't have to be Christian to follow the Twelve Steps. You don't have to belong to one of the Anonymous programs, although if you're powerless over alcohol, narcotics, or food, I heartily suggest checking the programs out. What you need is a willingness to move forward, and really, isn't that were all journeys begin?

You can find information about the various Anonymous programs here:

Check back often for prayers, spiritual musings and all manner of religious discussion and talk. If you have questions or comments, please write to me below. I love to answer questions! If you purchase items I have linked through ads or Amazon, I receive an affiliate portion of the sale. If you find the items are useful, please purchase from my site!
 
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1) Image by Penywise / morgueFile
2) Image by earl53 / morgueFile
3) Image by gluefly / morgueFile
4) Image by Penywise / morgueFile
5) Image by Jane M. Sawyer / morgueFile