When Things Fall Apart
"It may be when we no longer know what to do, that we have come to our real work, and that when we no longer know which way to go, we have begun our real journey." Wendell Berry
If there is one thing I am asked the most, it is IF I would be willing to share a bit of my story concerning our transition out of the LDS Church. I am private and introverted by nature. We all have stories that are equally real and valid. My story is no more important than yours. But I offer it to you today because so many of you have asked for it. It is simple (like me) and personal (argh), but it is yours to have.
I can still remember the moment vividly. John sat me down late one night, after the children were tucked in their beds for sleep. He spoke softly, with a tremble. He wanted me to know that he no longer thought the LDS Church was what he had once believed.
He felt alone and lied to. I had seen John's pain spread over several months. It was tangible. I knew he was wrestling with the research he was doing with Church history and his seminary calling, but I was still slapped hard in my soul that night. Stricken. Stunned.
I cried. I asked questions. Cried some more. Asked more questions. I asked to see a bit of what John was talking about -- to read a bit of what he had read. And this is when John and I began to engage in an honest and sincere conversation about spirituality...one that continues to this day.
I did not know it then, but that moment--that jarring, painful evening--gave birth to a new spiritual landscape for me. I experienced an inner shift. It is said that we often can't decide what wakes us up--only how we respond to it. It was like I spent years building a huge tower of blocks -- principles taught by the LDS Church. I had followed the directions I had been given. I placed certain blocks in the foundation, built it to an impressive height, and it was all in order. It was a good-looking tower. It seemed solid. But after that evening with John, and as I began to open myself up to my life, the blocks began to fall. Hard. One after another. Some fell immediately, others took a little more time.
I felt a number of emotions--
perpetual panic (I am a total planner. I love structure. I eat it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner!)
bouts of anger (At John, the church, the ward, myself.)
overwhelmed (It felt like too much to process at one time. So many emotions. So many things to consider--none of which were straight forward)
confused (What was the right thing to do in this moment? What about our children? There were times when I felt in the middle--trying to consider John's needs, but also the children's needs. Wait, don't I have needs too? We did not always match up.)
unstable (We were IN the church, OUT of the church, exploring new churches, trying home church, back IN the church again?)
tremendous sadness (I felt like I was losing my past and my future. The present was unknown. Was there anything this loss did not touch?)
My experience is that this stage is not a destination. It is not meant to last forever (thankfully). With any loss, the key is movement. Feel what you feel. Allow it to flow. Over time, the pain should lessen. Get better. Moments of pleasure or joy should return. If life doesn't improve over time, you might be stuck. Stuck to me means that there may be deeper issues at hand. There may be other losses or pain that have not been fully processed in your life that may be getting in the way. Or you may simply have too much all at once to sift through. Having compassion for ourselves amidst this stage of crisis is so important. A good therapist can be helpful but should be carefully considered.
Amidst this time, a remarkable thing happened. As most of the blocks were falling down around me, I noticed that some blocks or truths remained. The stripping away of one foundation had left another (more basic) one in its stead. So clarifying. Some of these blocks for me were: honesty, compassion, connection, family, openness, curiosity, the value of listening, a commitment to growth, the power of forgiveness, a belief in the importance of doing my own work as a person, a reconnection to the belief that "life is wise."
I experienced a subtle internal shift as I began to heal. I slowly began to connect to my spiritual life from the inside out. I just followed what I resonated with. Over time, I began to experience a change. Truth, joy and beauty were no longer found in a religion box on Sundays at 11am but EVERYWHERE, ALL THE TIME.
I thought I would share with you a few of the places that I have found healing. They are the pillars of my new spiritual practice. They aren't for everyone. They aren't outside my life either--they are part of how I choose to live. They reflect me wholly.
My sharing is not meant to be prescriptive in any way. That defeats the idea that we are fully equipped to make this journey for ourselves, which we are. What I am hoping for is that by sharing a bit of what inspires me, that you will all feel comfortable sharing a bit of what has been healing to you. What makes you feel more loving? What inspires you? How do you incorporate these rituals/ practices into your every day? This is where the journey gets good.
Yoga/meditation/exercise/healthy living--when I was in crisis stage, my anxiety kicked up quite a bit. My mind felt like it was exploding. John and I now do meditation for 10 minutes each day. Science backs up numerous benefits to meditation. I use the guided form as it helps focus me a bit more. Yoga works like meditation with movement for me. While running saved my life (another story), I feel like yoga has given me a life. I do it at home. I don't love gurus. Just the practice, pure and simple. Running burns off excess anxiety too. I think it is key to pick an exercise you enjoy. Hiking is a favorite of mine now as I can add a little nature--and I am one soothed girl. Eating well is grounding. It feels great, and is the ultimate form of self-care, really. Whole foods. Simply prepared. Lots of plants. Ease into any changes you make-- with compassion being the nest where you lay your head.
Reading/Exposing myself to new ideas--I am an avid reader. This was a crucial part of restructuring my brain a bit. What suits you is of course, deeply personal. I started by exposing myself to a lot of different books. Some scientific, others based on experience. Parenting books. Relationship books. Journey books. TED talks. On Being podcasts. I am a big fan of the well-written memoir.
Relationships--are some of our biggest teachers around. Largely because they are unavoidable. Relationships have the potential to heal us. I really like this idea. We can remain largely unaware/unconscious and do a great deal of harm. But in general, our relationships are where the rubber meets the road. It is harder to hide. In time, our spouse and children tend to shine light on our wounds of life. How? What we react to (get upset about), usually points to our own pain and suffering from past relationships and experiences (Harville Hendrix idea). We often marry a person who most triggers our pain, so that we can truly heal it. It has helped me to get curious. Be present about what triggers me. Listen. Seek to understand. Go deeper than just the immediate situation at hand. Healthy relationships are such a wonderful space in which to offer meaningful service in this life due to the deep connections that are forged. I think it helps to find loving people. Surround yourself with them. Let them assert your wholeness and worthiness again and again. Minimize those in your life who reinforce the lie that you must earn their love.
Connection to Nature--As a young girl, I would spend most days in the forest of our back yard. We had a creek that I would walk beside, freely dipping my toes in the water. I would climb trees. I imagined all day. It soothed me. My dad would often swim in our pool with us late at night. We would lie on our backs and gaze up at the stars. I have always felt peaceful out in nature. I just lost that for a while. And now, years later--I feel that I have come back to myself. Nature calls us to be present. We listen, smell, and feel in a way that is difficult to replicate anywhere else. I make time each day to get outside, for whatever time I can.
Try to be as present/grateful as I can--In our home, at any given time, we have gratitude journals going. They are a common ritual. The way we do it is that at the end of each day, we list five things we are grateful for. It sounds hokey, I know. But our brains are evolutionary in nature. We are designed to think for survival, which often means that we are critical as to point out what is amiss--this used to save our lives. But it may not be the best recipe for contentment. A gratitude journal works to reverse this inherent tendency. It has you look for things in your day that went well...or made you feel good. It is a gentle rewiring. Amazingly, what we pay attention to--grows.Here are some items that are always making it on my gratitude lists.
hot drinks in the morning
a hot bath at the end of the day
reading myself to sleep
hikes with John
really looking into my children's eyes when they are speaking to me
bedtime musings with the children
reading a book out loud to the children before bed
my memories (my dad is suffering from late stage Alzheimers/Parkinson's disease so this has become more and more precious to me these last few years)
This blog post is much longer than I had planned. My hope is that we don't suffer alone. And that if someone is amidst the messy part of transitioning, that they will carry inside them a small seed of hope that things will get better soon. The hard won't last forever. Let's rally. And share what has helped heal and inspire us forward. I feel like in most moments, we are asked to grow (love bigger) or die (shrink and tighten). We make the decision, whether we are aware of that or not. We are ON a "spiritual" journey no matter what. We are alive now. We are breathing. I say we embrace it. Let's make it the adventure of our lives. We may not be able to choose what wakes us up--but we can decide what to do with it. Let's make it a masterpiece that best reflects us. Yes?
So, tell me. When things fell apart for you, what helped you? What makes you feel more loving? What inspires you? How do you incorporate these rituals/ practices into your every day?