Friday, February 23, 2007

Should

My retreat is nearly over now, within an hour or two. I think I should have something to show for nearly a week of retreat. I'm sure that it was not a waste. I have had almost no doubts that this was a good choice.

I almost wrote 'the right choice'. That would be a typical thought from this week. Having an extraordinary opportunity like this has been daunting at times. I put a lot of pressure on myself to get things right. Having no one to tell me what to do, I lose myself in questions about what I should do. I don't want to waste this. I don't want to come to the end of it without having made any progress in my life and faith.

Questions surround me.

I know it is important to have a mix of activities, active and contemplative, solitude and companionship, serious and playful, holy and profane (?). There are only a limited number of hours of awake time in each day. How do I create the right balance?

I'm so stuck on this rightness stuff. Sometimes I want to swing the other way and just veg out until I can't stand vegging out anymore. But I know that when choosing between contemplation and movies, tv, eating out, etc. that unless I am firmly committed to 'doing the right thing' contemplation will get pushed to the side. I also know that I love contemplation. It grounds me. It somehow gets me to the truth, or at least closer to it. If I don't do it I suffer.

Why is it so tempting to replace something I love this much with stuff that is fun but doesn't fulfill with the same depth and satisfaction? I'm sure there are a lot of answers to this. Most of them don't matter. What matters to me right now is that at this point in my life I can't just trust that doing what I want to do will end up being healthy. I know that I choose too many things that push out the healthiest things. I don't mean that these things are bad. But it's like choosing a store brand hard and dry cookie that is close to me when there are warm fresh gooey chocolate chip cookies in the kitchen if I just will get up and go get them.

I hate the word 'should' because it always makes me feel guilty. I have been on a campaign for years to replace 'should' with 'want to'. I want to do things out of choice and conviction rather than oughtness. I don't want to take pride in some kind of pseudo-holiness self-righteousness because I always do what I 'should' do. I want to keep some humility about this.

The truth is, when I let this go my attitudes get nasty. I start looking for fairness instead of justice, blame instead of solutions. I'm not doing this stuff because it is holy or righteous. I'm doing it because I'm a mess without it. Sometimes I'm even a mess with it.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Retreat

I have a lot of discretionary time this week, time with no demands other than the ones I place on myself or accept from others. When something like that drops into my lap I agonize about how to spend it. It is such a precious commodity. What if I waste it?

Of course there are many things that could be done. I could volunteer. I could clean closets. I could... it's endless.

One thing I had decided I would do was morning pages. I would write for a half hour each day. This isn't serious writing for publication. It is continuous writing, stream of consciousness writing. You aren't allowed to stop and think and if you run out of words you just write "I'm out of words" over and over until you have words again.

So I was doing my morning pages and my mind was on all the things I could do and what I wanted to do and what I 'should' do. I couldn't figure out why I was more drawn to at home kinds of things than I was to away kinds of things. I wanted a few away things and some contact with the people I'm close to, but I almost have a hunger to be alone for long periods of time. I realized while writing that I have wished for an opportunity for spiritual retreat for years. It just hasn't really been possible without major schedule juggling and help with childcare, etc. Now the time is dropped into my lap.

So I'm being careful about my time. I'm doing some things, enjoying some phone calls, having some time with friends. But I'm also scheduling a lot of 'home alone' time. I'm using it to pray, to study, to write, to listen, to read, and to be still. I'm also knitting and watching a movie now and then. :-)

It's harder to do than I thought it would be. Once I get started it is great, but until then I'm pretty aware of the messes I should clean or the people I should help. I'll clean a few messes in between, but I won't clean all of them. I'll help a few people, but most of my helpfulness will kick in again next week.

Lent is starting now. Some of my reading was about the historical focus of lent. According to my reading, lent is a period of self examination and repentence. Repentence is kind of a scary word sometimes. To me it implies some groveling and feeling bad about myself. But that really isn't what it is. It is turning away from the things you do that hurt you to things that are good. So that is an encouraging thing. Repentence means things get better.

* * * * *

There is more here.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Blood Pressure Rising

Usually that means something about getting angry.

Today it just means that the meds I'm taking to control one problem have created another. It's not such a big deal. I'm in good health. My practitioner says I have the heartbeat of an athlete. The novelty of it (maybe novelty is not a good word) is that other than weight issues I've never really had much of any concern about my health. I've been pretty fortunate, and still am. It is sobering to read the web sites with lists of problems that can occur from high blood pressure. Nearly all are pretty serious. But my blood pressure has only been high for a short while and there are other options. I could change meds. I could choose to live with the other problem which is NOT life threatening but only VERY incovenient. I could add blood pressure meds---but I haven't even thought about the side effects of those yet.

At any rate, for the first time in my life exercise and diet seem like more than a personal preference. Exercise and diet can lower blood pressure, at least to some degree. But exercise and diet also make you feel pretty good, so there is an immediate reward as well as a health reward.

* * * * *

Actually there has been some of the other kind of blood pressure rising. I'm not very gracious about being lied to. This is unfortunate because I relate closely to people who just never feel safe enough to tell the truth. Most of the time I can get part of the truth. A lot of the time I can even get most of it. But there are days when I know I can forget about most of what was said and that I will have to fact check the stuff that needs attention. So today I wasn't so gracious.

Monday, February 12, 2007

I've been doing a lot of thinking about the unique personality we are born with and what happens to it along the way. There is such a lot to balance out and a mere blog entry probably can't get very far with it.

I believe God creates us each already wonderful. I think we mess with that when we try so hard to be something we are not. The more we cling to the approval of others to judge our own worth, the less we see the value we already have. Somehow we have to get to the point where we are convinced that the essence of who we are is good, in spite of the fact that we make mistakes or mess up or waste time or hurt the feelings of others. We recognize that when we do those things we have not lived up to who we are, and that the more we throw off our fears and defenses, the more we will be able to be ourselves.

This is a tricky thing, because it seems to me that when we are most fully ourselves we will be able to have true empathy for others, which means we will care what they think and feel. But because our self respect does not depend upon their thoughts and feelings, we will be free to listen and understand without defensiveness. We can take into account their feelings honestly, and see where we may have hurt them, and go on to make it right without losing the sense that we are loved and lovable.

The reason I'm thinking this is because I'm watching the people I admire. I'm finding that as they get older and wiser, they don't become alike. They become more uniquely themselves. They hopefully are less fearful about expressing their personalities. But the ones who have an empathy for those in pain become more empathetic. Those who have strong convictions manage to hold on to their strength of belief, but they become wiser about which convictions are worth fighting for, and humbler about the ways they fight for them. I'm way oversimplifying, but I don't know how to write it. They become themselves, only more so.

The friend I have who died was this way. Her husband is too. The women in my small group are this way. They have somehow opened themselves to life, to what God allows to come to them. They have learned to face fears and pain and illness and to be strengthened by it.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Good-bye

A friend of mine died this week. She is younger than me and adopted a sibling group of three at about the same time we adopted our two brothers. Her oldest is not done with high school yet. It is hard to imagine her gone.

Last summer a couple of days after her mastectomy I went to see her at home. She and her husband were struggling with their oldest son and knew we had been through similar things. I don't think I helped that much. They just needed to talk to someone who could empathize, but there is no magic advice. It was so good to be there that day. The things they had been through had softened them somehow, mellowed them. They were themselves, only more so. They had the wisdom that comes through hard times.

The hard times aren't over, at least not for her family. The funeral is Monday and then come the long days of grieving. They are surrounded by friends and family and they won't be left alone.

There's more at my other site.