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A LETTER TO MYSELF (and yourself, too)

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My dearest self,

We can make things happen. You are not alone. I am here for you.  Don’t run to people to help you get out of the darkness. It is our task to do that. Don’t blame a friend, don’t blame others if they cannot sit with you in your dark places anymore.

Find your clarity, your healing, your moving-on-choices. You are an unmarried woman. You have no one, in human form, you can really call your own. You were not meant for that. God called you to be his alone.

It is not true that you will not be able to rise above all these emotional turmoil. One day you will just realize that you are less hungry for connections. You will understand that true friendship defies space and time and you will see that all along it is about you and God.

Do not be afraid to enter this new life with yourself. Know your compulsions. Refuse to be enslaved by the terrors of your fear. Hold yourself and breathe as you self-soothe.  Recognize that   in all your tiny attempts to seek peace God is ever ready to supply all you need. At times the packaging is not according to how you would want it but He knows best. God gave you this part of yourself who is now writing this letter. I am your “sane” part, this part of you who carries the clarity of your every choices.

Well, you often do not listen to me but I am always here. I am this part of you who remains clear and trusting despite all that you went through in the past. I was unharmed by fear. God made it so. I was remain whole and safe within you.

I see you   fail again and again but I don’t hate you for that. I feel your every sadness and confusions but I never lost hope in you.  I know you didn’t know any better. You were consumed by your fears, and mainly by your mistaken beliefs about yourself.    I am grateful you are with me at this moment. Others say you can get in touch with me during meditation but it seems in your case we meet better when you write.

I am with you. I am yourself who will always help you get up and begin again and again and again. Let us both stand before your fears and see that you will be alright no matter where you are at this stage of your life. You are never on your own. Do not lose patience. I am here for you.    I am this part of you which was never distorted by your history of difficulties and false beliefs. I remain in God’s space of love no matter where you were back then. Unscathed. Protected. Safe. It was meant to be.  There will always be a part of every person which will not be harm by darkness.

I don’t know if you can call me your soul,   your higher self,   your essence. Whatever label won’t matter but what I want you to never forget is that you are never alone. No one has abandoned you even if your father died early, your mother left you for some time,   your “failed” relationships – these are not abandonment(s).   It has touched your life with pain but ultimately you were never abandoned because I have accompanied you all along the journey. You felt alone but in truth I was there. You couldn’t hear but I never left you. And I am still here and will always be here.

You have me already long before other friendships were given to you. Long before all the other “band-aids” were applied.   Try to use your remaining time wisely now. I can help you.

The struggle with loneliness will always be there but the intensity will change.   Trust yourself on this.  Remember that you have me. I am a spark of God’s presence in you. I have been taking care of you through the years and it will never change.

I hope you will always remember too as you enter another decade of your life that only when you find peace in “US” – yourself in me, in your true essence – intact, healed, whole, freed from fears and groundlessness – only then that your relationship with others can be really called true friendship. Empty of your need to be filled by them, to seek  refuge in them. There is no perfect life but inner peace is possible.

I can help you find that kind of peace.    I am with you always, 24/7.  Trust me with your tomorrow. Trust me with your today. Trust HIM who gave me to you.

 

 

 

 

LIFE DOESN’T FRIGHTEN ME

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My 8-year-old niece recited Maya Angelou’s “Life Doesn’t Frighten Me” for her English class subject. Her mom posted it in FB and I watched it in full admiration for her ability to memorize and say the words with clarity and expression.

Listening to her poem felt like entering a door inside me.

It was the first time I heard “Life Doesn’t Frighten Me” and it came at a time when life seems to be frightening me more and more.

The ongoing war in Aleppo, Mosul, Yemen and other parts of the Middle East, the genocide in Myanmar, Trump rising, chaos in the government, a plane crashing killing an entire football team and their coaching staff and journalists because of lack of fuel, earthquakes in Italy, Japan, Indonesia and elsewhere, the appalling migrant crisis in Europe, human trafficking and many other tragic news seems to pull me strongly to be scared about life.

When I heard my niece recited the poem I realized how this past months fear has crept in heavily on me.  Some are saying its best to skip the news and stay unscathed by horrifying stories around us. Yet this is not how I want to live. I cannot not read simply to protect myself from the pain of knowing.

With the advent of the internet though there is a tsunami of visual bombardment of graphic information. Some are really way beyond what the heart can receive. The other night I deliberately did not look at the video of a teen-ager in Mosul whose body was dragged before a tank. The article said it crushed the boy’s head.

Apparently it came from the very same photo-journalist who posted the iconic picture of a young boy from Syria who sat stunned, bleeding and motionless in an ambulance which captured the hearts of global viewers. If it was the same photo-journalist who participated in the death of an Iraqi teen-ager and in bringing out the iconic photo of a young boy in Syria to blame Assad’s regime then it is truly frightening. The media may not be telling the truth also. I also think of Bana Alabed, the 7-year-old girl mom who kept posting with her mom’s help from the war-torn Syria since September. I also am confused how could they continue to have a Wi-Fi access when everything else was taken from them by the atrocious civil war?  It frightens me to realize that we don’t really know what to believe anymore. Propaganda initiatives is making a fool of all of us if ever even Bana from Twitter is a fictitious character.

Life also frightens me knowing that Trump will very soon take office. It frightens me that there were really people who voted for him. For real.

Life frightened me recently too when I heard that my brother needed to seek a specialist for a health concern.

Life frightens me as I hear news of my mother having  forgetful episodes already. I think of the possibility of her having age-related illnesses such as dementia. I pray it will never happen. I know what ravages Alzheimer’s can do to a person having lived with someone for the past ten years and counting.

Life frightens me when I see an introvert, shy-looking teen-age niece who is studying in a Catholic school, suddenly posting a picture of her almost naked self in a skimpy swim-suit in social media. 

Life frightens me when a once bright-eyed, bubbly and highly smart  nine-year old girl I know as a baby  drastically  changed into a  violent, extremely anxious, verbally abusive and depressive person. Her inability to cope after a bullying experience at school and her teacher’s refusal to acknowledge the incident shattered her not even a  decade old spirit. She now  refused to step out of the house for months already and never went back to school. This week she has to be restrained and brought to a psychiatrist.

Life frightens me whenever I am having a chest discomfort. ECG result did not show a need for further test and a doctor told me it could just be an acid reflux. But it still frightens me as I still have the pain now and then.  I read that at times the first sign of a heart illness is death.

Where were the years when I don’t have these morbid thoughts?

Where were the years when I read or watch the news and not really feel affected by it?

Where were the years of my life when cholesterol, triglycerides, SGPT were not part of my vocabulary?

Where were the years when death is seen only for other people?

Aging, maybe aging is doing this to me. Now I know more clearly that death is real and time here on earth is limited. When your young life seems to be forever.

But who have I become through the years?

Why does life frighten me  when I’m supposed to be a woman of faith and with a life completely surrendered to God?

Is it because of my regular reading of news nowadays, both locally and abroad  which I was not really doing in the past?

Is it because I have acquaintances and friends near and far who had sicknesses or some even died already?

Is it because a most beloved friend/mentor is aging and I know I am apprehensive about being on my own when she dies because of  her silent heart related health issues?

Conditions may not also be according to how I wish things are at the home front and I may also be having a quiet, pervasive and long-standing down time. I know I am going through a deeper sadness in my own life as I enter my 50’s and yielding, struggling to the re-shaping of a deep celibate friendship as his life’s work and geographical move has to be respected.

Am I grieving for the seeming loss of a familiar regular conversations which circumstances is asking me to let go?   Am I in transition as I realized more and more that ultimately I am and will be ALONE? Yet I know this is what is being asked of me.  It’s  my  path towards my own authentic inner freedom and emotional/spiritual maturity at this time of my personal journey, this what I call yielding mode.

It’s been many months too since my last period. I may also be in a pre-menopausal chemical imbalance mode. I can also be affected physiologically and it may be coming out in my tendency to dwell on life’s harshness and attachments to old ways.

I don’t know but the truth is it feels good to be able to name all this. To say fully that life frightens me ironically feels freeing at the same time.

I am not ashamed to name how I feel.

I am not feeling apologetic too  that this is where I have found myself now. In a space where  I am not supposed to be “seen”as dictated by how others expects who I should be. As a nun I am expected to be without fear. Only faith.

I call this a home-visit. This is me visiting my own self and finding her afraid and yet it is alright. I know I don’t even need to explain myself to anyone. I just wanted to write and acknowledge that life frightens me. This is my own truth. Right now. I am grateful for having come across Maya’s poem.

As I listened to Maya read her poem in You Tube it has a soothing, calming effect on me. Yes, I have fears but here comes Maya saying that there’s another mode of living. She’s not giving a list of assurances of a terror-free existence in her poem. She’s simply saying it doesn’t scare her at all.

And if she can live that way I know I can too.  Maya has Faith in God. She has Faith in herself. She has Faith in LIFE.  Without needing to convince myself the words of Maya Angelou quietly gives me hope and an abiding sense that I am safe and will continue to be safe and need not fear life.

In life and in death I belong to God.

LIFE DOESN’T FRIGHTEN ME

Shadows on the wall

Noises down the hall
Life doesn’t frighten me at all

Bad dogs barking loud
big ghosts in a cloud
Life doesn’t frighten me at all

Mean old Mother Goose

Lions on the loose

they don’t frighten me at all

Dragons breathing flame
on my counterpane
that doesn’t frighten me at all.

I go boo
Make them shoo
I make fun
Way they run
I won’t cry
so they fly
I just smile
they go wild

Life doesn’t frighten me at all.

Tough guys fight

All alone at night
Life doesn’t frighten me at all.

Panthers in the park
Strangers in the dark
No, they don’t frighten me at all.

That new classroom where
Boys all pull my hair
(Kissy little girls
with their hair in curls)
they don’t frighten me at all.

Don’t show me frogs and snakes

And listen for my scream,

If I’m afraid at all
It’s only in my dreams.

I’ve got a magic charm
that I keep up my sleeve
I can walk the ocean floor
and never have to breathe.

Life doesn’t frighten me at all
Not at all
Not at all.

Life doesn’t frighten me at all.

– Maya Angelou

 

 

PEMA CHODRON’S MAITRI

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I continue to be still and sit twice a day. An Easter gift.  15 minutes, 30 minutes…whatever. The important thing is I am trying not to read but sit still as I gather “ALL OF ME.” This feels right. This idea of “everything belongs” as Rohr put it. Not rejecting any part of my past. I read a line that went like this, “When was the last time you visited yourself?” When I sit I call it home-visit.

Sitting still is not just really about the self but being with God within me, in the innermost silent part of my awareness. It is not self-preoccupation because when I am silent I know I am with God and not just with myself.   Pema might not be saying this in her writings but this is how it is for me, in my own personal experience of sitting down which I call prayer.

The purpose of sitting/meditating/centering/praying is not to go on a peace ride. It is not to feel good, holy or to escape from real life situations. Slowly I am beginning to understand that nothing will really exempt anyone from the “restlessness/big and small sufferings” of life. No meditation can make our lives problem-free but it can help us see things clearly.

According to Pema Chodron in her book, The Places that Scare You, seeing things clearly is one among the four qualities of maître we cultivate as we sit still or practice silent prayer or meditation.  The four qualities are:

Steadfastness

Clear seeing

Experiencing our emotional distress

Attention to the present moment

What is MAITRI?

Pema wrote that Maitri means unconditional friendliness or being totally relaxed with ourselves. It is relating with ourselves without moralizing, without harshness, without deception.  All that makes us feel ugly, small and dirty are now seen in a different light. Self-forgiveness begins. Unhealthy choices in the past towards others and the self is seen with a deeper acceptance and understanding. We realized more and more that  everyone is doing the best they can with the inner resources that they had and that includes ourselves.  It is only when we begin to relax with ourselves that  we can let go of harmful patterns in our lives and allow lasting transformation to happen.

Maitri is HONORING our lives, the choices we made and not made.  Maitri is freeing ourselves from our own self-criticisms and negative beliefs that make us shameful and feeling unworthy.   It is givin ourselves permission to be exactly who we are including all the blunders, mistakes, immoralities, weaknesses, failures and all that we see as wrong episodes of our lives in the past and even at present.

Another word I can use for maître is self-compassion. It is a relationship with one’s self where there is nothing to defend or to protect.  This idea of maitri or unconditional acceptance of ourselves embraces all that we are without excuses, without needing to explain, without taking issue with anything or anyone

Maitri is allowing the self to come out from the cave of shame, anger, blame and unforgiveness.   It is our awakening to the truth that all along our sanity and well-being depends on our being our own primary support and best friend.

This stance to life does not fix all our angst, restlessness and issues but it provides a sense of safety and acceptance to be just who we really are. There are no harsh expectations, no demands, and no conditions. There is no need to control.

We begin to be more patient and understanding with our own self as we continue to sit still (pray.)  It is a new experience of knowing our vulnerabilities, all that we believe is fragile within us, all that makes us doubt in our own and in other’s goodness, all that makes life fearful, groundless and unsafe and yet we can be calm, open and kind towards our own self and others.

Maitri is the spirituality of POPE FRANCIS. It is the essence of his “Who are we to judge?” statement.

Maitri is Mercy. God’s face is MERCY.

All along this is what Pema and all other spiritual teachers are telling us: UNCONDITIONAL LOVE. Jesus told us that we are to love our neighbor as we love others.    This love is a merciful, compassionate love and it starts with our selves.

I often forget this.

Hopefully I can begin again.

 

BLOGGING

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I visited Buddhist oriented blogs. They are plenty. Countless actually. It’s a beautiful world out there. But honestly  I get overwhelmed as I read through all the sharings of the bloggers.

One lifetime is not enough to read everything we are interested in. There are so many wisdom-filled bloggers. And I get the feeling that to be fully engrossed with each one will rob me of how it is live in the real world. So I just choose one or two bloggers and refrain from spending an entire morning reading here and there. There is huge difference between living the real life and reading a blog.

Not everyone is inclined to write or read blogs but there are people like us who has found a sense of meaning in articulating and sharing our inner life and path with others.

Everyone can write now. We don’t need permission from anyone to write whatever we want to write. Choosing to be incognito is a personal choice. Maybe one day I can go public. But it doesn’t matter. In this space my real name and context is irrelevant. One can choose to be whoever s/he wants. I write not for an audience but for the simple joy of writing. I am grateful that I’ve been attempting to write for the past two years.  I resonate and am inspired by all those bloggers who persevered to share their journey generously.  At my end I feel I am still groping on where my writing will lead me. I just post randomly. I want to write about serene living as a way to help myself be focused and be “there” – serene – but more than that I feel that I am doing this as a response and a commitment to what I have always wanted to be: a writer.

GROUNDLESSNESS

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Pema Chodron’s “groundlessness” is St. John of the Cross’ “dark night.”

When we experience groundlessness or dark night we are given the gift to awaken to the truth of life’s essential realities. What once gives us a sense of safety or peace is shattered, lost or acutely seen in its truth. Impermanent. Fleeting. Superficial. Unreliable. Undependable.   Groundlessness/dark night sets in.  This is universally labeled as SUFFERING.

No one will ever be exempted.

In our younger years or before we got interested to read spirituality books or have our “awakenings” – we go through life believing that all pain, difficulties, restlessness, uneasiness, conflicts – all that makes one ill at ease – has to be solved, fixed, do away with, before we can finally begin to arrive “there.” To that serene, peaceful life.

In my readings of Pema, which I find strong resonance with St.  John of the Cross, I am seeing more clearly that suffering cannot be completely removed from our everyday life (though there are  unnecessary, man-made petty sufferings which can be avoided.)

Pema’s words – befriending our personal demons –  speaks to me of facing our fears and understanding where they are coming from and learning skills to healthily manage them, instead of assuming that our fears are to be seen as enemies and “bad” parts of our personality.

I have met and sat with my personal demon countless times.  Psychology labels them as “weaknessness” or “learned/acquired dysfunctional reactions to life’s miseries.”  These are my autopilot response   when I feel groundless.  It is my common “escape route,” my complusive reactions to find safety, my habitual way of relating with insecurities.

Befriending our personal demons is the initial step in loosening its grip on us.

Pema’s echo of the ancient teaching of unconditional friendliness towards oneself is similar to Jesus’ “To love others as we love ourselves.”  Love of self is “maîtri – unconditional friendliness towards one’s self.”

The journey truly begins with one’s inner life and not on what is outside.

FEAR is always inside us. It is this fear, this sense of groundlessness, which makes us relate to life on a perpetual ill at ease-vigilant-alarmed mode. Fear blocks our path to “friendliness” towards our own self.

I will continue reading Pema, with focused this time. I want what she has understood and lived and is teaching as a Buddhist nun. I also want to continue seeing the pattern of similarities of my Catholic faith and the Buddhist lessons on putting order into disordered lives.

NO GUARANTEE

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It took me years to have clarity on this.

It’s true. Wherever we assume we are in our practice of meditation or in the spiritual/emotional growth we claim to have “achieved,” none of these will actually spare us from all that can hurt us in this life.

There is no guarantee; there is no assurance that when we dive deep into teachings of being “awakened” life henceforth will be pain-free.

Maybe we started to enter into this new realm of “paying attention,” coming from a desire to set things right in our chaotic lives. Somehow we knew we got there.   And then life has its way of making us  realize that  whatever path we have chosen none of that will  shield us from all that we were hoping we will stop having.

When we were younger and is new in the path, it is excusable to assume that once we have read all the mindfulness books and is extra-faithful and generous in our “practice,” we’re in for a steady and a peaceful journey.

But later in life we cannot insist on this anymore.

Life has its own way of surprising us and letting us know that there is nothing to hold on to. Not even our   utmost faithfulness in whatever life of prayer we have committed to.

Issues get recycled or we may encounter new ones that we never thought we’ll ever have or experience. Themes vary but there is a common touch of suffering: of having no one or nothing to hold on to. It could be terminal illness, separation, conflicts with others, financial problem, senseless war and killings, an addicted son, mental illness or even the death of a beloved cat or dog.

It’s a movement which we see in our lives in its varied stages. So we continue on. We begin to gradually see that none of whatever “practice” we commit ourselves to, will make us invincible. Lights and shadows continue to dance around us and we still stumble and get trapped.   The darkness prevails, light sets in, transition come, peacetime. And then another cycle.

And slowly we see that all along it’s not about making our lives without an issue, problem, conflict, darkness. Because no matter what we do life is both light and shadow, war and peace, life and death, death and resurrection. It’s always a mixture of everything that makes us human and divine.

Our prayer practice is meant to make us pay attention but not to escape. We are guided to step back from needless, avoidable stupid choices as much as we can but ultimately we can never be fully shielded. Our prayer practice is never meant to shield us from ourselves and our neighbor’s vulnerable humanity but it can draw us to hope and trust, beyond words and concepts,   to keep believing that within us is our only peace and security.

WORDLESS PRAYER

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The Maharishi  introduced me to Meditation in my early twenties. Through the years I learned about silent prayer in its different names and slightly different forms.  It is called in varied names – Contemplative Prayer, Lectio Divina, Centering Prayer, Jesus Prayer, Silent Prayer,  Mental Prayer, Focusing, Breathe Prayer and many other prayer terms I may not be familiar yet.

My exposure with Buddhist writers affirms my attraction to prayer as a practice, as a way of life. I love the silent space of stillness in prayer  although it is inner mental chaos and not silence that I often meet. I saw also how prayer can be valiantly experience as another “goal” to achieve instead of preparing myself to be with Another.

I am grateful to realize that prayer is not another life’s “project.”

Prayer is a gift, a response to being here in this side of life. No one will give us a certificate, a grade, a trophy nor a medal on the quality and form of prayer  we have chosen and strive to practice. How prayer impacts our life is seen in no another place but in our everyday inner and outer  life.

In Eastern form of silent prayer the aim is to be fully in the present moment as we allow the breath to anchor that stillness. In Catholic tradition, silence in prayer is being with a Presence. There is a faith-filled certainty and assurance, although there is no word, there is no conversation, that we are present with God.

It is “relational.” Not empty as in nothing or as in no-presence. In my faith tradition to pray is to be with. One of our great prayer teacher, St Teresa of Avila, wrote this about prayer: “Prayer is a frequent intimate sharing with Someone whom we know loves us.”

This is not an easy path but it is not complicated too. Like all  forms of silent prayer in all prayer traditions it is and can be full of “distractions” but we know that we can always choose to drop that story line, that drama, and pay attention to what brings us to here and now — to the Presence of God.

Labels can be  dissolved. I don’t really tell myself whether I am praying as a Buddhist or as a Catholic. I simply stay. God has no religion anyway. He is neither a Catholic nor a Buddhist.