A New Rhythm Forward

Jenn,

I’m going to continue on with the last letter.  I’d like to get more practical, and it will probably be very technical at first.  Please hear me out - I recognize some of the practices that worked for me, may not be the best for you, and vice versa; we have different personalities and interests.  However, for me the defining element for rhythm creation was holism. That was the matrix for which I judged the practices I put into play.  

As a whole, I feel the church of the west remains primarily gnostic in its approach to spirituality and ignores the fact that we are body, soul, and mind, not to mention, social beings, but you’ve talked about that.  These facets of our personhood are so intimately connected that we can’t prioritize them in order of importance.  

So, my new rhythms include disciplines and habits that engage all facets of our being.  Here they are:

Road Trip and Camping:  Yep, those have been spiritual disciplines for this process of liminality.  In a way, it has been like taking this transition and actualizing them through sacraments; the sacraments being road trips and camping.  They make the emotional process tangible.

Active Contemplation: When I was going through the darkest part of this transition, I couldn’t engage in meditation.  My mind was haunted, and there was no peace to be had.  The beasts within my head would scream loudly anytime I was silent; so I couldn’t be.  

In the last letter, I quoted Lawrence Gonzales from his book Surviving Survival. “Hands force order on the mind.  The body controls the brain. What we do with the body is going to influence what goes on in the brain."  I understand that to mean that new practices, habits, and rhythms help us manage and silence the madness between our ears and in our chest.  So, I started looking into active contemplation.  Using the physical to direct the mental and spiritual.  

I knew these practices of active contemplation had to be slow, counter intuitive in order to force focus, and the result could not be instant gratification.  It had to be about working with something, almost like an ancient alchemist, to craft something that wasn’t there before.  After all, that’s what I wanted in my spirit, a peace that hadn’t been there before.  If we have learned anything from modern science about the way people survive trauma, we know that using and engaging the body is the only way to change the structure and meaning of a soul damaged by trauma.  So, to actively contemplate, I engaged in...

  • Sourdough bread baking and beer brewing:  I am known for getting things done.  That’s what I do.  I do it fast.  I do it accurately.  I control the process, and I can accomplish many things at once.   But those attributes will not allow one to make good bread or beer.  These are multi-sensory activities.  Everything is engaged - sight, smell, touch, and taste.  They take time.  Engaging and submitting to the process required in both of these helped to unlock creative potential and aspirations toward beauty, and allowed me to direct my mind and soul to a place of peace.  Others I know of have used woodwork, knitting, writing, and many other things; these two were more of an interest to me.
  • Jiu Jitsu:  This is about developing counter-intuition.  Jiu Jitsu literally means, “the gentle art”.  According to my psychologist, I rank high as an aggressively hostile person.  This resulted from emotional trauma.  Aggressive hostility is a self-protective posture.  In short, “the gentle way” is not part of my intuition.  I have always used force and strength in life to control and get things done, but in Jiu-Jitsu, they were my greatest weaknesses.  Another key to Jiu-Jitsu is turning into your problems as opposed to turning away from them.  I used the physical sport of Jiu-Jitsu as a tool for reorientation.  For many others, running or yoga has been a means to do the same thing. 

The main reason active contemplation works is because it allows us to be engaged in a process that firmly plants us within sublimation and suppression at the same time.  Sublimation allows me to channel my anxiety, depression, fear, and aggression, outward, leaving my mind and soul open to beauty and peace.  While suppression, not denial, is about distracting myself from the madness and noises in my head so that peace and joy can take root. 

Play:  Someone who gets their identity from “getting things done,” sees play as a waste of time.  But this discipline was about letting go and after awhile I learned, it was about engaging with what actually matters: my kids, nature, laughing, and using my imagination.  So, I dusted off the old Powell-Peralta skateboard, bought a new bike, created a phone basket for the house, and set a shut-down time four our screen devices.  And we played - a lot.  

Mental Engagement:  I had to step away from reading the same ol’ same old.  Not because it wasn’t good, but rather I needed something that wouldn’t allow my mind to jump off the page and submit to the noise.  I couldn’t read things that simply confirmed what I wanted to know, I needed to be challenged. If I was in the process of recreating myself, then I needed to read new material from different perspectives.  I needed to give other perspectives a try.  I needed to read books about new hobbies I wanted to try.  Rather than just reading philosophical books, I read science.  Rather than reading only nonfiction, I engaged in fiction.  For awhile I quit reading scripture unless it was in community.  Scripture: I love it and try to live by it.  Now, I am on a steady diet of it, but for awhile, I needed to step away.  And when I re-engaged I did so through books such as Job.  But during this time, I needed to read books about other faiths and spiritualities, not unlike Thomas Merton did with Buddhism or C.S. Lewis invested in learning the Tao.  

Council:  I hired a spiritual director.  Maybe one of the best moves I’ve made.  I needed a set of outside eyes to help me see where the divine was and had been present in the formation of my own story.  I had lost sight of this.  For me, the answer was a Jesuit priest.

I want to hear about any practices you put into play.  There are two other things I have been looking into but haven’t yet delved into: Ignatian spirituality and creating a rule for life.  If you’ve ever heard of these, I’d love to explore more, especially since I am beginning to stand on more stable ground. 

The madness is still there, it’s just caged or managed, or slowly dying, but these disciplines, which don’t typically get lumped into Christian disciplines, are anchors in the storm of emotional instability.  

When I've told people about these, the question is always, “Can you assure me they work?”  I tell them, I still wrestle with the images in my head - they are still there.  I still fight the noise from the madness.  So, I don’t know if it ever completely goes away.  But I’m living again.  I’m living well.  I am enjoying life.  I can meditate again.  Then, I point them toward this truth from the Tao Te Ching, “Fill your bowl to the brim and it will spill...Keep sharpening your knife and it will blunt...Do your work and step back”  In other words, commit to the process and let go of the outcome.  You'll be glad you did!

okay, that's enough for now...

Matthew