I have been “off the grid” for a couple of weeks. This does not mean I have not been writing. The fact of the matter is that I have been writing a lot, just not publicly. Normally, I am a very “open” person. Those of you who read my postings regularly know that I share quite freely about my emotions and the circumstances and events that take place in my life.
However, there are some things that come along that I need to deal with on a more private level. I have several networks of friends whom I can turn to on occasions such as these. I also have my intimate relationship with the God of my understanding and even when friends are not available, He is always ready to help me bear my burdens. And, of course, I have my best friend, my husband.
But, perhaps because of my deep connection to the written word, I also use the tool of writing to help me in such times. I find that journaling about a problem or an issue helps me to put things into perspective a little easier. And just the fact that words appear on paper is already a balm to my troubled spirit.
When I journal I always use pen and paper rather than the computer. I love the old-fashioned way of expressing my thoughts by manually writing them out. There’s something more personal, more intimate, about hand-writing. And, of course, it’s my handwriting, which brings the subject matter even closer to home.
So when I am heart-burdened, writing out the problem, the pain, the confusion, in long-hand is very therapeutic. I can sometimes find the courage to put some words down on paper that I might not be able to express verbally. And even though it’s subjective, there is also that sense of it being someone else’s problem. In fact, sometimes I write in the third person singular, as though I were writing about another person.
Journaling my sorrow allows me to get what’s inside, outside. It is yet another way to nurture myself. I refuse to be bogged down by pain, and I surely do not want the pain to fester into anything like resentment or anger!! Those are two cancers of the soul that I will not allow to hang around.
And so my pen travels across the pages of my journal, and as it leaves its inky trail my heart lightens and everything seems more bearable. I always have a handful of pretty journals on hand for such writing. Wrapping those dark feelings between two beautifully designed covers somehow lessens their hold on my heart and turns my journaling into another level of spiritual growth.
No, I’m not going to do an Albert Einstein. I do not have that kind of analytical and scientific mind. But it struck me that any given situation will probably be viewed differently by each person involved in it. I just have to think about any normal, every day conversation between myself and my husband and how we sometimes struggle to understand exactly what the other is saying – and we’re both speaking English, and are relatively on the same page!
Just recently I read a phrase that really caught my attention. It said something like, “A mistake is just another way of doing something.” Yesterday I read another phrase which said, “A weed is no more than a flower in disguise.” And they both carry the same message as the old proverb, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”
I remember participating in a workshop some years ago. There were various projects and activities that we engaged in during the course of the workshop. One that I will always remember went something like this. We re-entered the classroom after a short break and in the middle of the chalk board was the word “track”.
The instructor asked us to just focus on that one word. Then she asked us not to talk among ourselves and to write a sentence using that word. As I recall, there were about twenty to twenty five of us in the class. There may have been a handful of sentences written that were similar. The rest were completely unique, each offering a different meaning and use of the word.
I’m sure that this creates problems from time to time. Going back to my husband and I, I can think of a few times when the discussion has become somewhat heated simply because of two completely different perspectives, understandings of, one word or phrase. (We’re probably not a good example because I’m British and he’s American, so the language barrier in and of itself sometimes is a bit of a beast!!!)
But different perspectives can also bring wonderful variety to our lives. Just think of art and architecture, and what about music? All the unique styles created by different people enrich our lives in all those areas. I absolutely love Modigliani and Monet and yet they create works at opposite ends of the spectrum. As do Degas and Dali and yet both have produced works of exquisite beauty.
I cannot imagine life without the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. But there are days when all I want to hear is Dvorak or Beethoven. And when I’m in the mood, please get my toes a-tapping with some down-to-earth, boot-stomping Blue Grass.
On the news yesterday and today are the heart-wrenching stories and pictures from Samoa and Indonesia. People’s lives torn apart, wrecked by savage tsunami’s and earthquakes, forces of nature over which we have no control. Any “small stuff” problems that I may have been lamenting about dwindle into nothingness by comparison.
Probably the biggest example of perspective that I can remember in my own life happened back in the mid seventies. I was living in Sardinia at the time. It was a gorgeous, warm, clear August evening and the sky was littered with millions of stars forming the Milky Way. I remember standing on the patio of my little cottage and getting a cricked neck from staring upwards.
Then I had an idea. There was a six-foot long wooden picnic table on the patio which I covered with a sleeping bag. Then I lay on top and in wonderful comfort began to star gaze. It was an incredible experience. It looked as though someone had taken a dozen sacks full of diamonds and thrown them across the width and breadth of the sky.
It was only then, at the ripe old age of thirty something, that I began to get a clear idea of what the universe was about. As I lay on that picnic table I suddenly realized that it wasn’t just a flat dark blue background with “big stars, and little stars” painted all over it. I understood for the first time the significance of the word “infinity”.
I became aware that the “little stars’ were in fact probably just as “big” as the others seemed to me, but that they were further away and thus seemed “smaller”. And I also realized that if I squinted I could just barely see even “smaller” stars that were even further away. And in that one moment the full magnitude of “the universe” hit me.
In that one moment I was both terrified and also in total awe, and I realized just how insignificant I really was in the bigger scheme of things. And yet I also realized just how important I must be to my God that He has chosen to place me here in the bigger scheme of things.
If you are a regular reader of my entries, you will know that I have just been through a brief (thank God) tough time. It spanned no more than two weeks and, compared to say, someone facing a cancer and chemo diagnosis, or someone involved in a long recovery from a really bad accident, it was just a blip on the horizon of life. That didn’t make going through it any easier.
Just yesterday, in the reading from one of my daily meditational books, Linda Picone wrote, “Tough times can make us stronger and wiser. Knowing this doesn’t really make tough times any easier, though – at least not while we’re going through them. But it’s worthwhile to remind ourselves often of this truth. Of course, we get stronger not simply because we go through tough times, but because we call upon our best selves to find our way through them. We draw on our humor, patience, courage, and other qualities and, in doing so, learn the power of inner resources.”
I totally agree. However, just based on my personal experience in life, I think there are two strong ingredients missing from the above recipe: prayer (which, for me anyway, indicates a turning to God, a higher Spiritual Being); and asking for help.
My dear daily companion (in book form at least!), Max Lucado, talks about habits that we should develop. He recommends four habits that are worth engaging in on a regular basis to help us grow in our spiritual life. The very first of these is prayer. I cannot agree strongly enough with this statement. Since developing my prayer habit my life has definitely changed for the better but, more importantly, I have changed for the better.
I have written a couple of blogs on the subject of prayer (Prayer: A Tool Of Spirituality and Sacred Riding: My Harley Prayer Time), but I’m sure that I could write a whole book about it and the difference that prayer has made in my life. So when I hit tough times today an instinctual reaction for me is to pray.
Even though I am fully aware of “Mr. Censor” (see my blog Musings: Life And Lemons) snarling away in the corner of my mind, “I don’t want to make lemonade!” (or pray, or help someone, etc…), prayer is my first line of defense against whatever difficulties life chooses to hurl at me. It is on these occasions that I get down on my knees physically or mentally and I ask God to help me through.
And there is that second ingredient that I referred to – asking for help. One of my biggest human deformities is pride. “Human deformities” sounds so much more intellectual and suave than “sin”, doesn’t it? (Did I mention that I suffer from pride?) However, I’ve learned not to beat myself up about this seeming lack in my otherwise perfect character (did I mention that I suffer from pride?), because I realize that 95% of the human race has difficulty asking for help, and I’m so close to being in that other 5%. (Did I mention that I suffer from pride?)
Over the years, and with a lot of assistance from God and myriads of angels that He has sent across/along my path, I have slowly managed to arrive at a point where I can usually ask for help from others before being forced to my knees by the weight of whatever cross I am bearing. This has usually saved me a lot of heartbreak and loss of wasted energy.
Asking for help also brings me to right size and helps me put my problem into perspective in the bigger scheme of things. When I ask another for help, I am admitting (finally!) to myself and to others that I don’t have all the answers. I am acknowledging that I am not the “be all and end all” of the universe, which in turn allows me to chip away at my pride and acquire a little humility. I am also offering to someone else the opportunity to come out of themselves and to do something good for another. It is a win-win situation.