Monday, February 25, 2008


I spent an hour recently with a woman, dear soul, grappling with one of those major life shifts that seems to hit on all levels at once. Rose* has managed nearly two decades of sobriety with the help of AA, despite never having felt a connection to the Higher Power so central to the AA philosophy; for many years, the program itself served that function. This current crisis, however, seems to be pushing Rose to wrestle more directly with this dimension of her life.

In exploring her sense of Spirit, Rose reflexively used the term ‘Him’ to refer to God. As we talked further, she realized she had accepted, without question, the idea of God as a father figure. Rose’s own father was a violent and neglectful alcoholic, and her husband of many years is emotionally distant and, when pressed, emotionally abusive as well. Suddenly, Rose’s difficulty relating to a God she envisioned in male form became quite clear!

However, Rose had a close relationship with her mother. She regularly experienced her mother’s love and concern, and still grieves her death several years later. Rose also has an absolute certainty that her mother is in heaven; this was, in fact, the only reason she had for her belief in God--if her mother’s spirit lives on and is ‘someplace else’, there must be a God.

And so, Rose began to open to the idea of imagining God in a different form--this God who is far beyond any conceptualization of the human mind. Sitting across from her that day, with the room aglow in lamplight, Rose gave me several gifts.

To be sure, she gave me that dazzling gift of witnessing transformation, a topic worthy of an in-the-works future essay! (see Angels Sing)  But she also gave me a metaphor and a deeper understanding of our spiritual process. On that chilly January evening, I felt a doorway come into existence. That doorway appeared as Rose’s experience of nurturing and connection joined with her willingness to expand her image of God.

This metaphor has deepened for me these last few weeks. I’ve become clear that we do best to look for our doorway within the stuff of our own lives. The door we seek cannot easily be found by doing what works for others, or by following rules stemming from another time and culture. The stories of others and the many rich spiritual traditions can certainly act as guideposts, but if we want an immediacy to our spiritual experience--a vibrancy, an aliveness--then surely our doorway cannot be an abstraction. It must arise from what we know, from who we are. It must fit our lives.

As this metaphor enticed me further, I realized it likely that this doorway had not ‘come into existence’, as I had first imagined, but had simply been recognized. It seemed that various factors in Rose’s experience had aligned in such a way at that particular moment that she--and I--could perceive a doorway that had been there all along.

I also saw that we each have, not one, but several doorways that are ours, that appear to us at important junctures in our lives or arise from the stuff of our daily humdrum existence, doorways that are just waiting for us to step through. While the opportunities that appear in times of strife may certainly be more flashy, I suspect it’s the smaller, more commonplace doorways that are both more plentiful and most often missed--the chance to be kind or to act with grace, the choice to work with an inconvenience rather than fight it. There have been times in my meditations when I have chosen, finally, to welcome Spirit into a particular emotion or a continuously nagging thought rather than continue to stubbornly return to my technique--and through that portal I slip into a sweetness or depth of experience I nearly missed.

Now as I thought further, I realized this metaphor has some limitations, as do most creations of the mind. Doorway implies a wall, does it not? A partition that separates ‘here’ from ‘there’? My reading of spiritual texts and commentaries, as well as my own meager personal experience, remind me that such a separation is illusory, that the stuff of Spirit is everywhere and that our task on earth is simply (hah!) to recognize it, to live within it.

But what metaphor might work better? I can’t find one yet, though I’ll keep ya posted! For now, I’ll stick with the image of the doorway Rose highlighted for me that day, recognizing that such doorways are my path to realizing there is no path, that ‘here’ and ‘there’ are just constructs of my earth-bound brain. With that caveat, I nestle into the metaphor. I like it. I trust it.

Rose came back the next week with her feet firmly beneath her once more. The depression that had been weighing her down for weeks had begun to lift. She was taking action again, doing simply what was hers to do and trusting more fully that that, indeed, was enough.

Rose had regularly read the books of daily affirmations tailored to folks in recovery. She shared, though, that she had now chosen one comprised of reflections by and specifically for women. And while she was not yet talking to God, Rose was conversing with her mother who was with God. “And that’s a good start!” she declared. A good start, indeed!

For Rose, a male image of God had simply not worked. The current doorway provides Rose an opportunity to refine her conceptualization of the Sacred and explore its connection to her heart, her soul, her life. A path has appeared and Rose has taken her first tentative steps along it. I do not know where this trail will lead her. However, I feel certain that as she senses her way forward, moment by moment, Rose will walk into a richness of experience that is there waiting, whispering her name.

There are doorways aplenty, throughout our days and our nights, especially, it would seem, in our nights. If I can remember this metaphor, I will be more likely to reach out amid my own darkness, fingers sensing that slight give that hints of a path forward--and take it. And I will trust even more deeply than I do now the wisdom and inevitable success of a client’s search for her or his own doorways.

May we each listen and find amid the substance of our own lives the doorways that are waiting for us, those that whisper our name.

Loanne Marie

*In this and all my blog entries, whenever I refer to an experience with a specific person, know that the individual has been consulted and has given written permission for me to publish my thoughts about their journey. Know, too, that I have changed identifying information, given the person the opportunity to review my entry before posting, and offered the individual the pleasure of choosing her or his very own blog name.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Surfing the Now

Several years ago, my brother-in-law, born and raised Californian that he is, took me surfing. Although I was only minimally successful in that one outing, there were moments that have stayed with me. More than once, I was able to rise to my knees, let my hands go and--maintaining a precarious balance point--let the wave carry me. It was exhilarating!

I never repeated that experience in the Pacific. The surfing I do these days is of another kind. I meditate. In the metaphor that’s unfolding here, my usual mix of ruminations, reveries, and emotional reactions is the ocean, my technique the surfboard. That thrilling moment, though, when I really GET IT and am lifted beyond the confines of my everyday self to be carried by--and into--something so vast, feels similar.

Yeah, ya don’t often hear meditation described as thrilling, do ya? Perhaps that’s not the right word. Perhaps enlivening or vivifying would work better. Both mean ‘to give life to’, and that seems to better capture the feel of what I’m trying to convey, the aliveness of those moments. Life, however, has already been given me, has been animating me since birth; during these few precious moments I am seeking to describe, I simply recognize it. When I allow myself these flashes of true perception--perception of what is true--the veil lifts and I feel Spirit with an immediacy unavailable to me while caught in the illusions of everyday life.

I’ve often wondered if the joy I experience at such moments comes from the fact that they are still so rare. If I ever managed to live within that awareness, would the glory of it somehow lessen? I don’t think so. In fact, I am certain that my current peak experiences are but a dim reflection of an immensity beyond my ability to fathom, let alone inhabit fully at this time. One day, perhaps, my balance might improve, ultimately making the board itself superfluous. Perhaps I could then live calmly upon, and ultimately within, the sea of change. But, the joy lessen? I doubt it. I suspect it would only grow deeper. But here we are in the realm of pure speculation. That time, if indeed it ever arrives, is far away.

Now, just as my Pacific balance was precarious, so, too, is my meditative one-- although this is where the metaphor begins to unravel. When I fell off my borrowed surfboard, I knew it immediately. When I tip out of my absorption in Spirit and plunge back into the salty water of my usual self, it can be many seconds and, alas, sometimes minutes before I realize I’ve wiped out. Then it’s time to simply grab my board and climb upon it once again.

After meditating for years, I’m more accepting of the inevitability of this process. I even realize that it’s beneficial. You see, each time I climb back on the board, I reassert my commitment to greater consciousness. And I get much needed practice. I find that, with all the training I’m getting in my meditations, reorienting myself in my day-to-day life is becoming easier and I’m doing so more quickly. That is, of course, the goal of any meditation practice--to become more conscious in every moment and better able to live in greater harmony with all that is--and to do it, not only on a cushion, but within the very stuff of our own small lives.

There’s the rub! It seems infinitely harder to do in the stuff of our lives than while meditating. You see, I finish this entry after a major wipe out. My husband and I have just finished a 2-hour argument, a particularly maddening one as we’ve had it several times before. You know, one of those arguments that seem oh-so-familiar, though the specific details are changed. You believed you’d learned the lessons, fixed the difficulties, come to a workable understanding--only to find yourself embroiled yet again.

I was off my board many times, feeling lost to the turbulent seas. I was at times furious, disappointed, judgmental, hurt, sarcastic, dismissive, weary, self-righteous. Certainly not my finest hour or two! I never totally forgot the board, though, or gave up trying to scramble back on it. I even succeeded a few times, only to tip out of balance, plunge back beneath the roiling waters, surfboard a-flyin’. But I did continue to try, as did he, and that counts for something. For everything, actually.

We are now back to a good place, feeling resolved, having distilled valuable lessons from the experience. True, I’m not feeling the ecstasy I wrote about above, not exactly feeling vivified! But I am feeling in harmony once more--not only with my husband, but with this challenging process of being--of becoming--conscious. It is a worthy endeavor, indeed.

Well, these last few paragraphs almost didn’t make it into this final draft--at first because they hadn’t happened yet, but then because I was a bit unsure of their appropriateness. Would I seem too self-disclosing, airing dirty laundry before strangers who don’t care to see?

It was not embarrassment that nearly held me back, nor is it a penchant for public exposure that leads me to include it. I am invariably taken aback when a client asks, in all seriousness, if I’m always as calm and together as I seem in session. I never hesitate to answer them truthfully, albeit far more succinctly than I did here. We each need to know that none of us does this thing called life without stumbling hugely and often. Not their serene psychotherapist, not the person who articulates moments of joy as the veil lifts and Spirit fills her. We each err with dependable frequency, though our specific methods of doing so stem from the particulars of our own lives, personalities, and souls. Such is our lot as humans.

May your surfing be vivifying this day and enlivening in all your days to come! And if ya can’t quite get there--or remain there--on a given day, that’s okay, too. Truly! Welcome the learning that comes through the difficulties, and revel in the moments of recognition and joy. And no matter how seemingly slow the pace of your own growth, give yourself a hearty pat on the back for grabbing for the board, again and again.

No matter how wet you find yourself this day or any day, namaste!

Loanne Marie

Monday, February 11, 2008

Mountain Road

These thoughts have been simmering since autumn, when my husband and I spent a day in the nearby mountains. It grew into one of those perfect days...hills dressed in earth tones, sky the rich blue seen only at high altitudes, aspen giving us back the summer’s sun in each golden leaf.

We found our way to a stream in the National Forest and each moved off on our own to sit in silence. Well, we were silent, but the stream was loud and rushing, the birds singing and flitting, the leaves rustling.

Have you ever meditated next to a brook in autumn? I hope so. For me, I find my edges become less distinct outdoors, my small self more open to the life around me.

The road back down the mountain was rough, full of rocks and gullies carved by the last rainfall. We meandered our way, letting the road guide us. Straight lines between here and there were not to be had, and we didn’t even think to try to impose our will on this road that carried us. We reached our destination just fine under the road’s astute guidance.

Wouldn’t life be so much easier if I could do that always? Take guidance from the path, from the day. Trust the road. Oh, there’s a rock right smack in the middle of my planned route? Simply adjust, move a bit to the left instead. Why is it so easy to allow the road to guide me when coming off a mountain in autumn, and so difficult to flow with the particulars of my everyday world?

The good news is that I’ll have lots of opportunities to translate this wisdom into daily life. Each time I insist on forcing the road to conform to my expectations, I’ll arrive at my evening weary and worn, recognizing once more that there must be a better way. And each time I see the rocks in my path as simple suggestions for a more harmonious route, I’ll lie down to sleep that night with an innately reinforcing peace that promises continued good things for the morning.

May you welcome the guidance of your own rocks this day.


Loanne Marie

Monday, February 4, 2008

Creating Sacred Place Internally

There’s a traditional relaxation technique known as the safe place exercise. An individual creates, in her imagination, a peaceful and secure refuge into which to retreat when harried. This technique can be more than just a relaxing exercise; it can be a potent resource in the spiritual quest.

We often use the term ‘imagination’ dismissively, as in “Oh, it’s just your imagination”. Well, the evidence that our imaginations can be quite real abounds! All of us are well aware of times when we’ve responded viscerally, simply by recalling an upsetting event or projecting ourselves into an unwanted future. These moments may exist only in our imagination, but they certainly have the power to consume our attention, even to cause a physical response.

Creating an internal sacred space builds on this capacity of the human mind, but takes it quite consciously in a positive direction. One creates, using all the powers of imagination, a spiritual refuge. This becomes, then, another method of invoking awareness of the Infinite and our place within It.

Now, there are some folks (not me!), who can visualize in exquisite detail. However, this capacity is not necessary to create an internal sacred space. I may not be able to see my childhood home as I would in a photograph held in my hand, but I can tell you what it looks like and can remember what it felt like. I can imagine it, even if I cannot fully see it.

A spiritual refuge is most effective when imagined in as much detail as possible, utilizing all the senses. Begin by becoming quiet. Then, imagine a spot on this earth (or some other!) that epitomizes the state you would like to induce. Some old standards are a beach with gentle surf, a stream in an autumn forest, a mountaintop beneath a starry sky--but truly, there are no limits. And of course, no two imagined groves of golden aspen will be identical.

After you have your spot, really imagine it. Give it life. Place yourself there and experience this place from within it. What shapes and colors greet your eyes? What sounds do you hear? Inhale the scents of this spot. Notice the textures of this place and the feel of the air touching your skin. Yes, your particular place may even give you something to taste.

And yet, more than any of these lovely sensual details, experience the Spirit of this place, its vivid peace, its aliveness, its essence. Drink it in through the very pores of your skin. Feel yourself enveloped by Spirit, suffused with Spirit. Open to it. BE it.

A sacred space is born.

Now that you have a space created, what do you do with it? BE THERE! You can use it to anchor yourself at the start of meditation or as your mind begins to wander; in this way, your sacred space can serve as an experiential mantra. This refuge can act as a touchstone at various times throughout your day, helping to right you when you feel yourself slipping off center. You can return there just before sleep, as you let go the details that have consumed your awareness. The more you experience yourself there, the stronger the connection and the more available your sacred space will be when you need it.

And you can go further, if it feels right. Your place may evolve, revealing other dimensions or vistas; things may happen there. At times, you may become aware of a benevolent Presence, possibly one with shape and substance. You can conceive of this Presence as your wiser Self or as an angel or guide. You can ask for direction on an issue that troubles you; answers may not come to your earth ears, but your intuitive Self might gain insight.

An internal sacred space can be a valuable tool--a gift for the spiritual journey. If you decide to give it a try, I wish you well! I’d love to hear about your experience.

Until next week,

Loanne Marie

PS. On a related issue, see Creating Sacred Space Externally.