D-Day

This blog post is the last issue of The Healing Journey, the letter I send out to subscribers. You may subscribe here to receive the email.

Dearest Readers,

Language is meaningful and I’m careful about the words I choose, whether I’m posting them online or pronouncing them in speech. Watching my words is a mindful practice requiring constant awareness and committed intention. For example, I used to swear like trucker and I hated a lot of things. Now, refraining from saying “I hate” something is a way for me to transcend and transform the judging mind and not swearing upholds ahimsa or the practice of non-violence.

I can still drop the F-bomb on occasion and my mind still judges but the Healing Journey has given me a better understanding of where my feelings are really coming from and why I react harshly to certain people or situations. Looking directly at my fears and attachments has helped me to untangle them and recognize how they will continually motivate my actions if left unchecked. This inner work has naturally resulted in a more intentional way of speaking and behaving.

Finding alternative words to shift my attitude and energy has meant that I would never say I was ‘depressed’ even if I was. Instead I might tell you that my energy was very low (or completely depleted) or that my spiritual condition was not at peak. This refusal to name ‘depression’ as such felt like a way to conquer it or rise high above its lowly depths. But it never made it go away. So, recently, after a stretch of working hard to overcome the funk, something in me decided to call a spade a spade. “I’m depressed,” I said to a friend. It was freeing to finally name it with such frankness.

Years ago, I watched a TV movie adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s The Mayor of Casterbridge. The Mayor, played by Ciarán Hinds, has made some terrible decisions, most of them while drinking. His protégé, Donald Farfrae, on the other hand, seems to have had all the luck in the world. One evening, the Mayor confides in Farfrae and shares honestly with the younger man about his deeper troubles.

 “…I sank into one of those gloomy fits I sometimes suffer from… when the world seems to have the blackness of hell, and, like Job, I could curse the day that gave me birth.”

Because I knew exactly what the Mayor was talking about I fully expected his friend to answer him with a knowing “aye, mate, I hear ye.” But Farfrae has no idea what the Mayor is talking about.

“Ah, now, I never feel like it,” said Farfrae.

His response knocked me over. You mean some people actually have no idea what the blackness of hell feels like? What it is to experience utter hopelessness? To wish for death to come swiftly and end it all finally and forever?

“Then pray to God that you never may, young man.”

The Mayor’s retort is right on because no one who knows that kind of mental suffering would ever want anyone else to go through it. It’s brutal.

“So what are you using to overcome it?” my own friend asked me.

“All my tools,” I told her. “I pray, meditate, do the next right thing, change the thought, watch it, repeat a mantra, have mercy on myself, share it, help someone else to get out of myself, work on my defects and assets, whatever it takes, WHATEVER IT TAKES to not succumb to the pit of despair and to move through it and beyond. In short, whatever I am capable of in the moment.”

“Wow,” she replied. This sounds very effortful.”

Well, it is. And it’s effective, too.

One of the least effortful and most effective tools on that list is to ‘watch it’. While requiring a certain level of vigilance, watching the mind doesn’t require a lot of effort. Stepping back from what the mind is doing (or not doing, as the case may be) has taught me that I am, in fact, not my thoughts. I am not the D-word. I am not even the brain, which seems to be misfiring and malfunctioning in the D-state. Like watching my words, watching my thinking creates a shift in energy. Eckhart Tolle has cornered the market on this idea and it’s life-changing.

That life-changing shift in energy enables me to respond to the D in a more enlightened capacity. I can even welcome it, saying, “Hello! You again. Thanks for the visit! Off you go.” I can also view D as a brilliant spiritual teacher who has led me down the path of humility, shown me how to surrender and how to soften, how to respond with compassion to myself and others and forced me continually let go of my attachment to what I think so that I may dwell more comfortably in That Which the Mind Cannot Grasp.

What is That Which the Mind Cannot Grasp? It is the Energy Behind All Things. It is God. It is no god. It is Light and it is Dark. It is depression and it is freedom from the D word. There is no thing that It is Not. I like Maya Angelou’s word for It: All.

So this is what I rely on to overcome the blackness of hell. I rely on ALL. And it works. For me. And whatever works for you is good, too. If you are working with D then I am with you. And if you’re not, I pray to ALL that you never may.

May we continue to watch what we say and how we say it. And may we each learn to tell the truth about ourselves to others without shame.

From the fires of love,

Celia

The Agony of Nothing

This blog post is the last issue of The Healing Journey, the letter I send out to subscribers. You may subscribe here to receive the email.

This past August my parents and our family suffered the loss of Maggie, our beloved Great Dane, to bone cancer. A few weeks after Maggie died my mother announced that she was getting a new puppy. I was surprised. When Maggie was deteriorating my mum had stated very clearly that she would never get another dog.

“You said you weren’t going to get another dog,” I reminded her.

“I know,” she answered, “But I can’t bear the agony of nothing.”

“The agony of nothing,” I repeated, impressed by her ability to name so aptly our existential human emptiness, “That’s it. Right there. That is what it all comes down to. If we cannot learn to bear the agony of nothing–”

“We’re doomed!” she interjected.

That wasn’t exactly what I was going to say. I was going to say that if we cannot learn to bear the agony of nothing then we are destined to get a puppy to make the pain go away. But what happens when the puppy dies and we are once again left with that “deep-down, black, bottom-of-the-well, no-hope, end-of-the-world, what’s-the-use loneliness”? (Thank you, Charlie Brown.)

Well, we can always find something else to temporarily relieve the dread. There is no shortage in today’s world: shopping, sex, TV, booze, dope, chocolate cake. On and on it goes.

Eventually those things stop working, too, and the Black Hole returns. What then? How do we bear the Agony of Nothing?

By spending time with it.

Yup. When when we stop trying to a-void the Void, when we make friends with the thing we fear most, it becomes transformed. Solitude is no longer lonely and Silence is no longer empty.

It takes great courage to do this. Exploring the foreign territory of our inner lives can be terrifying. It is the Great Unknown, after all. I myself have uncovered a hundred forms of fear living inside of me. By getting to know these fears intimately and confronting my terror head-on, their power has been massively reduced. And I’m happy to report that I have been liberated by at least eighty-seven of them. Maybe eighty-eight.

This is how healing actually happens. Interior freedom occurs when we walk through the fear rather than run from it, work with the pain rather than alter it. Entering fully into the Agony of Nothing creates, miraculously, the Possibility of Something. That Something is better than a puppy. Because it is, in fact, Everything.

Thus begins the astonishing process of living from our Everythingness instead of from the agony of our nothingness. And it is a process. And puppies are most definitely allowed.

From the fires of love,

Celia