A Troubled Mind

Training one’s mind to not think in

Circles can be tricky if one is focused on

Other things, besides what is happening

At the present moment. Sometimes, we

Get trapped in the past or the future, and

We forget to enjoy right now, we lose any

Effective concentration, and short circuit

Our ability to communicate with the ones

Around us who really count. We also do

Not tell ourselves what we need to hear,

That times of trouble will pass, or have

Passed, and that we will be okay. Either

We will survive, or we will not, but

Neither result is reason to fear. As the

Apostle Paul wrote, “Oh, Death, where is

Thy sting?” So many things cause us fear,

And yet most of it is an illusion. As FDR

Said, “We have nothing to fear, but fear

Itself!” Those are truly words to live by.

Strife steeple apple clarity boom

Strife steeple apple clarity boom

Stack swordfight against an orangutan

From the head clerk of the zoo.

The orangutan would only be

Supplied with a plastic spoon, so

Easy to cut a man’s skin off the

Bone, into an artery, sever a vein,

Something, damn it, there’s a walk in

Place for taking a piss. Ouch your sigh.

Life sucks. And I would agree.

Sometimes, maybe for most people,

Life does suck. Maybe if they turned

Every church in town, staffed, organized

And otherwise provided for it to function

Like any other mental health unit of a

Hospital, and then took on the insurance

And pharmaceutical rackets, you’d see

Healing right away.

 

 

Humanity: The First and Last Form of Capital

Capitalism is an ugly thing. Really ugly, at its worst. But you wouldn’t expect it, except when you see it in action in the poorest of countries, those we don’t care to help, in contrast to the way our Defense Department spends millions of dollars of our tax money to help, assist or protect other countries. At first, capitalism seems harmless, helpful, even wonderful. People just using whatever given resources they have, and then building something out of nothing. What happens, is that because each creator of a new business, especially once the business begins to take off, perhaps through their own ingenuity, hard work and lots of luck, they feel like they are an artist looking back at her canvas, and the end result is something beautiful. A religious person might say the creator and sustainer, can just sit back, make a few adjustments here and there, and let the god of capitalism bestow upon her one and only beloved daughter, the holy grail. And if this daughter does exceptionally well for herself, she will be able to shower the gift of salvation with all the true believers, the ones whom have been faithful with their talents, multiplying each for much more. Sounds like a beautiful thing, right? First, a story.

 

It all started out with a creator of an object. As the creator started to use the object, all were inspired by the god of capitalism, and the god gave it a blessing, that the daughter of god, would have dominion over her object, with a power to give a name to her creation. In her eternal wisdom, the creator gave such a beautiful name, it seemed to surpass even the beauty of the object itself. This miracle was required to save all of humanity, with this one, great and powerful gift. Her followers would then be given a greater gift, which she then revealed to them, was instilled inside their souls, a true reflection of herself, even though they themselves had not seen it. When she spoke these words, they knew in their hearts it was true.

 

Later, the creator called together her followers for a banquet, during which she explained she would reveal to each of them, what her purpose was on earth. During the banquet, she took out her object, and held it up to them once again, and they felt blessed and privileged to see it again. Suddenly, within their minds they saw a vision of a heavenly kingdom, which would be built upon this one object, and they knew that they were witnessing the god of capitalism in their midst. The creator pronounced that from this one gift, they would all be able to do as she has done, indeed, even greater things. She proclaimed that all that would be required from her children, would be for them to always remember her, as well as the object she had created and shown to them. Then she told them that she would have to leave soon, but that a great Comforter would come to them, bestowing on them all the strength that they would need. The followers of the creator felt a bit nervous with this announcement, but with this great Comforter coming, they still had hope, if they could only let it all settle into their souls. “How can we do the same thing?” they asked themselves. After the creator left, however, great success was achieved by many.

 

Capitalism was created to benefit the one with the capital, not the ones who may be the greatest asset to the business. This is because of a great hierarchy that exists. The farther down the totem pole you are from the owner, the least value you have to them, and, in turn, the further you are from getting paid what you are worth. This is the case with companies with a fast turnaround, because pay should be according to the value you have to the company, in general, excluding how much money you make for the owner. Hourly pay raises should be according to a quota, but that quota should include all types of work done, not just the kind of work that can be seen from an ivory tower, i.e., on a spreadsheet full of dollar amounts.

 

Companies who truly put their employees first, time and again, have the best chance of reaping the most profits, the least turnaround, more loyalty, more job security, best training programs and the happiest employees. But the first step is to pay them what they are worth. None of these things will happen without that. With it, they will be more interested and even excited about how the company is doing, because they will know that the company’s success is their success. If your employees don’t feel appreciated, and if it’s not reflected in their pay, you are not doing everything you can for your company, yourself, and your most precious resource, your employees.

Alas, Writing!

Writing is the most impersonal, insensitive, unfeeling, inhuman, damaging, humiliating form of communication ever invented. We don’t need education, ever, even as children. What we need is love, and there is no more powerful love, than physical love, not sexual love, but hugs and kisses, rubs and holding hands, that love found today between family and friends, sometimes, if at all. After physical love, we need a spoken form of love, another form of communication, an embrace that travels quickly to the heart. This form of love is possible, along with physical love, even as we are in our mother’s womb, by both the mother and the father. Tranquility begins long before we are born. The more peaceful and healthy our present and future family is, before birth, and after, is key to our ability to trust our mother and father, siblings, and later, other children and adults.

 

My prediction, as it seems that there are more single-parent and abused, abandoned and neglected children in our midst, is that mothers and fathers as physical and spoken communicators and lovers, are quickly becoming a dying breed. Eventually, there will be none. So, really, we’re all left with everyone else around, whom all have shared the pain, of being, thinking, and especially, feeling alone. We will need to help each other, but to resist the interference of family, friends and even doctors and therapists. They all have their particular roll in getting us back to healthy living, and because family and friends are as ignorant as most of the rest of us are about dealing with extreme pain, unhealthy ways of thinking and living come to the fore. The doctors and therapists are in a difficult position because they are all specialists. Psychiatrists deal with medicine. Psychotherapists deal with our thoughts, where they come from and where they are going. Art therapists deal with art. These are those who remain, and it’s because of how inhuman and industrial our world has become. So impersonal. All of us have shared pain in our lives. The pain of being, thinking and feeling alone.

 

So, back to writing. It is a gift, and a curse. I believe when the person who became ostracized from their community, because of pain that they and those around them believed they could not handle, he or she was ostracized, kicked out of their group because they had lost their handle on reality. They then started doing strange things, making strange medicine, drawing on the walls of caves, even developing an alphabet in an effort to communicate with anyone who would listen. When the alphabet was discovered, it helped their community, and an art form, meant to communicate, was turned into a science. And that’s when we really got in trouble. Science is okay in itself, but the lengths that people go to this day, just to present news or drama, to the rest of the country, is just crazy. News programs are more about drama than anything else. But that keeps people addicted to it. They’re terrified, that if they don’t watch, they might miss something. Next time, go outside and ask someone. Connecting with real people is always better. I don’t care how much you hate your family. They are the only family you’ve got. You can set boundaries and rules, to protect yourself. You can say you need to leave. Tell them you’ll try to call (or email) them back soon. As far as writing goes, it can be a useful tool, if your family refuses to communicate in any other way. Writing is calming to me. I feel like I am accomplishing something. And it is not as much in your face as calling or texting. Also, writing is smoothly indirect, and easier to say what you want to say. Some of us do our best communicating through writing. We feel safe, secure and protected, which we might not feel in person. Speaking in person, especially if we’re put on the spot, can be hard for anyone. Writing is just a necessary evil. As long as people struggle to be understood, there will be writing.

Loving Yourself Through Expressing Your Needs


(“Fear”, 1995, Watercolor)

 

When I spend time doing artwork, it is usually because I am in pain, very upset or both, but I am attempting to express my pain or strong emotion, and thus release it. One, I devised intuitively, back in September of 2015. (See below) It is a meditative, very pure and easy method. You start by drawing a combination of intersecting lines, lots of them, up close to and in between the edges of all four sides of the paper (all this is just the basics, feel free and empowered to improvise!). Make sure all these lines cross over each other, and, if you’re up to it, make the spaces between the lines relatively small. This allows for a large amount options for the next step, coloring.So, then you start filling in each area with different colors, if possible. If you don’t have many colors, just spread out each instance of color, but make them appear as randomly chosen as possible. Then, begin to fill in each area with a variety of color.


(“Tribal”, 2015, marker drawing)

The second method is drawing a vortex.  My art therapist says these can work as a soothing mechanism. Often I like to combine a number of different sized vortexes in each drawing, giving the sense of emotional strain in life.


(“Moving outside”, 2015, marker drawing)

The third method is using a combination of the two previous methods, intersecting and overlapping, which creates even smaller spaces, because of all the many spaces, and then continuing to fill in random colors. I’ve never done one yet that looks just like any other, and it tends to display a beautiful, centering, or, because of the tension, a display of extremely complex possibly mixed portrayal of a conflict, inner or outer, mental, emotional, psychological, etc., combined with a soothing method of relaxation, distraction, focus, and A meditative state, which once you can learn how to balance your feelings. We just need to learn to balance in a healthy way.


(Compartmentalizing Your Breakage”, 2015, marker drawing)


(“Pushed and Pulled”, 2015, marker drawing)


(Coming Apart  at the Seams, 2015, marker drawing)

Then, there’s the poetry, which I have been doing for a long, long time. I began consistently, when I was in high school, I had spent a lot of time listening to rock music, hard rock, and I had been in several years of chorus in school, then in rock and roll bands, as the lead singer. In high school, I started out trying to sort of mimic the typical teen love/angst/anger/yearning to be understood/to find my own identity/ and to dream of bigger things, situations, states of being, that I believed would be a better state of existence, both for me, and for the world.

Then, that got put on the back burner, but I continued to write. Poetry became my big thing, but I didn’t show it to anyone until years later, after I had dropped out of church and school. All this anger was coming up, and there was no stopping it. I let a friend of mine borrow my printed stuff, then my word processor died, so all I had were the hard discs. No telling where they might be. I might have even thrown the discs away. Hundreds of poems. Never got the hard copies back, rather.

 Later I came up with my own form of poetry called Unpoetry, which breaks every rule. I still do it to this day. When I started painting abstract expressionist water colors, I was asked by my teacher if I’d like to take part in an exhibit in the Student Union Art Gallery. I had a ton of paintings, some huge, wall sized, and some much smaller. My exhibit was called “Abstract Splattings: Shredded Views. A series of my poetry was displayed beneath the paintings, in print and in Braille. I showed a few in a coffee shop, submitted a couple to a local arts and literary journal, and that’s about it. The journal printed two paintings, one, on the front cover, and the other upside down in the interior. Also, I showed a few in a long gone coffee shop, Epitome, whom never returned them and I think they hung them incorrectly, too.

Fast forward twenty years. No more painting, only poetry. Then, I was introduced to adult coloring books, then came up with my own style. I’ve been doing mostly marker drawings for about 5 months, now. I saw an art therapist for a while, showed her my book, then we discussed the Unpoetry. She saw me as trying to show lack of meaning through a medium full of meaning. We did a few pieces of art, but mostly talked.

Now, my focus is in nonfiction writing. I’ve become more aware of the world around me, the pros and cons of it all. I want to help change things. I used to be asked, “what would you want on your tombstone?” My answer was “He made a difference.” For so long I abandoned that thought. Now I’ve come full circle, and I’ve had new experiences that have shaped my determination and inspiration about certain topics, specifically related to mental illness. I want to advocate and be an activist. Maybe then, I can make a difference.

The God Who Stopped Loving Herself

   
The universe is a mystery to me. I do believe there must have been one being who must have created it. My question is, why? In a sense, it is related to why we love other human beings. We love, simply because we want to. We love, we create, because it soothes our souls. It reminds us that we are not alone. There is such great fulfillment in each act of love, a kind of spiritual love, which can be objective and subjective, understanding and empathetic. We always want to mess things up by over-thinking everything, with negative thoughts.Having said that, I think that first being of the universe, despite either being independent in existence, or composed of an infinite amount of objects and beings, all connected, like the Earth and all its creative wonders, became lonely. With love, comes pain, the pain of separation, rejection, betrayal, etc. Then comes fear. Then anger. I think that being should not have, in the act of creating the universe, allowed any part of that being’s self to be separated into any other additional beings. We have all spent our entire lives trying to return to that eternal, everlasting womb. 

But, I think I understand why God did it. Because feeling alone, in any form of existence one can imagine, is the most painful experience, in all of life. I believe, in my heart, what happened, was that she stopped loving herself. God lost an appreciation for her infinite gifts. She lost her fellowship with the glory of her Creation, which began long before Earth. She forgot who she was. But she also remembered that she loved her children: planets, Suns, galaxies. She began to stretch her imagination, until she came up with the idea of human beings. These beings would be the roughest creation she made. She was taking a risk. These humans would have an intellect, second only to hers. But their hearts could be as soft as pudding, or as hard as stone. The difference would be determined by two concepts: the ability to trust or mistrust, influenced heavily in childhood, and the choices each human made, each day, all day long, for the rest of their entire lives.

Abstract Art and Awakening

Whenever I have referred back to the time in my life when I stopped doing abstract art, I always have said, “after I first became medicated.” But I am now getting more of a glimpse of truth related to that time that helps me sort of put some other truths about myself, and about my experiences, together. I’m seeing my loss of creative life in different ways. I’m also seeing my continuance of written creativity in a different light as well.

Before I became conscious that I had a mental illness, that is, before I labeled myself, before I started feeling the full weight of what was for me a social and psychological stigma of what it means to have a mental illness, I painted with water colors, I experimented in abstract art in a very intense and consistent way. My art of choice was abstract expressionism, and for a while, I enjoyed action painting. I had a very limited amount, but, for me, a treasure trove, of huge, room sized pieces of roughly hand cut watercolor paper, that I had bought from an art supply store, on a great bargain (the only way I could afford it, by then). I had no idea what I was doing, no clue of the self therapy I was undergoing. I just knew it was absolutely, undoubtedly, right, for me, then and there.

When I did those action paintings, I was fully myself, raw, emotional, just pouring out on the page, everything that was inside of me, and, yet, to another person, perhaps, I was creating nothing. What I know now, is that creating nothing was, exactly, the point. I hadn’t realized what else I was doing. I was creating a world for myself in which suffering did not matter, truth was not punished, shame did not exist. It was my fantasy world, and yet, it was not any of these worlds. For as I escaped, I also became vulnerable. I felt my feelings in a way I had not felt them in a very long time, and I accepted them, for those few, lovely moments, at least.

It has taken me twenty years of trial and error, to discover, sadly, only intellectually, at this point, what I was doing, back then. What I had achieved, was nothing, compared to what it had done for me. In these big, messy creations, I had driven a cheap, rented vehicle into the sublime. Medicated or not, this was possible, but these acts were acts of desperation, acts of loneliness, acts of a thoroughly broken heart. When I stopped doing these acts of pure kindness for myself, forgiving myself, forgiving the world, even, dare I say, forgiving the God whom I blamed for all my agonizing troubles, I committed many selfish, blind acts, that were so much more desperate, because they took me out of the living world, God’s beautiful, hopeful, miraculous creation. Then, came the worst. I had become so miserable, and was so afraid of losing control, that I admitted myself to an institution. I was afraid of the intensity of my emotions, and all my dark thoughts, and I did not trust myself to carry on. The result was that I was put on an extremely strong combination of medications. It killed me, but not all of me. On the outside was a barely functioning corpse, a psychotropic, but also artistic, zombie.

Of course, they told me how brave I was, to reach out, to take this step, to ask for help. And, perhaps, in some pitiful way, I was brave. And I did gain stability, in the long run, but at what price? This experience served as an extension of my frail ego for shame, guilt and any other negativity I could apply to myself. From then on, I would be so self conscious, so judgmental towards my self, including my thoughts, feelings and urges, even in my art and writing, that I could barely paint, and it was very difficult to write much poetry. I believe now, that this is the true reason for my loss of creativity, not the medication. Twenty years later now, I have started to see an art therapist, who helped me come to a point of understanding about all this. It is wonderful to finally see what has been going on, and to start to finally let go of all the judgments, the condemnation, the shame and the guilt about my art. It is a new beginning for me. The dreadful feelings are all still there, but I can see a way out.

The last time I spoke to my art therapist, we talked a little bit about my written works, published in my book, one straight ahead poem, and, in general, the poems that I call Unpoetry. According to my art therapist, there was one particular straight ahead poem that I wrote, called “Balance”, that had a little bit of what I have learned to be called, “wise mind” mentality. Although I was having a difficult time, I was also able to recognize the life choices and habits that helped me to keep myself stable, at least to a certain degree. Routine and rest were two elements that I remember were mentioned.

The discussion about the Unpoetry was mostly centered around the struggle to break through into the abstract with words, the certain compromising level of attachment, and especially my obsession with meaning, even while trying to escape from it. One of my wise friends would call it my conflicted presence in a paradox. Many wise people I’ve talked to have mentioned my habit of over analyzing everything I do, and over thinking everything. That, too, is a sort of paradox. None of these habits get me anywhere, at least anywhere helpful. My art therapist mentioned that my goal of attaining the abstract in the written word may not even be attainable, as the written word in itself seems to have meaning as a central characteristic. My past thoughts about my Unpoetry did not concern the abstract element of it, although I did see a relationship to many types of visual art that have a perception of randomness and a presentation of collage as a characteristic. My thought was about absurdity. I think the classification of absurdity is correct, but I also think I have always had a hard time accepting that, because of my attachment to meaning. My existentialist attempt to create meaning out of nothing is in a war with my personal intuition that meaning is not attainable. In the past, I could accept this, at least while my personal life was in complete chaos. After experiencing what I perceived as order in my life, even if an illusion, I have been intoxicated by that illusion, and I am addicted to it. Like any type of addict, I constantly want the high of my object of intoxication, which is possibly the illusion of order. But, I wonder, have I always sensed the truth that there is no order, even if I could not accept it?

Perhaps, this is one of the essential predicaments of human beings. We want order. If we can’t find it, then we want to create it. And even if we can’t create it, we don’t accept it, to the limits of infinity. We are trapped in this illusion to the end of our days. It is a tragic situation. And the only solution is the acceptance of our situation, which leads to a “oneness” with the chaos of, what a scientific friend of mine calls, the “multiverse.” Perhaps, the only predictable characteristic of the multiverse is that it is unpredictable. That is the paradox that most of us are taught to deny. We are taught an illusion. We are taught to be addicts. And the excuse is that there must be goodness, somewhere. There must be meaning, in something. There must be a supreme being, that created it all. We are caught in that paradox.

The Silence and Suffering of God: Part 2

“Jesus said to him, ‘If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.’ Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, ‘Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!'” Mark 9:23, 24 (NKJV)

I have a true desire to have a healing, loving relationship with God, myself and others. I want to believe that is possible.  Right now, I think I am in the worst struggle with my mental illness that I have ever experienced, and that is with the cooperation of doctors, therapists and medication. I believe that even though there appears to me to be a great disconnect, although God seems to be silent, I still believe he is guiding me and healing me. That may sound like a contradiction, and maybe it is, but I’m okay with that.

Paul Tillich closes his book called The Courage to Be with these words: “The courage to be is rooted in the God who appears when God has disappeared in the anxiety of doubt.” I don’t know if, when the doctors get my medication right, if my faith will improve. I don’t know if, after years of therapy, if my faith will improve. It could be, that I am just a skeptic, a doubter, and my continual suffering will be a plague of anxiety due to a seemingly silent God who seems to act from far away, even despite his own yearning for a better relationship with me.

I do believe that when I suffer, God suffers, because God is infinitely loving and compassionate. Although I struggle with my faith, although God seems silent so often, I think he watches over everyone, because he loves all of us. Like a heavenly gardener, he is always waiting for opportunities to tend to his creation, to give it what it needs to flourish, to thrive, and to be healthy and beautiful. I am a flower, and I need good soil, plenty of water, clean air and maybe some occasional fertilizer. I know God is doing these things for me, even while I can’t seem to bring myself to talk to him, to read the bible, or to do the things that the church instructs us all to do.

Maybe in some small way I do believe in God. Maybe there is hope for me, even as God has opened certain doors for me, and, after a while, I have slammed them shut. I do believe that there have been plenty more doors that have opened over the years, even if many of my friends and family do not understand or appreciate that. I have gone in directions of which many Christians would not approve, but I need to believe that those choices are equally as valid. I am on a tiny raft in a raging sea, but I have tied many ropes to many other tiny rafts, which are tied to larger and larger water crafts. Like mine, none of these crafts are perfect, but in the end, we will all get there, together.

The Silence and Suffering of God: Part 1

There have been many times in my life, usually when I was either very emotional, or I had a great need, and I prayed about it, but God seemed to be silent. Looking back, I wonder, could I have done anything to help myself, in those situations? I think when I was young, it was leaving a bad situation. I usually felt pretty helpless to do anything about it, and sometimes, it was leaving one bad situation and entering into another.

As I got older, when you would think I would become more confident, my sense of helplessness continued. I spent many times praying to God to help me when I thought I needed him to intervene, but he never did, in those times. Eventually, I did leave that bad situation, but my feelings of helplessness continued, accompanied by something else, mental illness. At that time, I sought help for a while,  then simply abandoned God, even though, looking back, I know that he continued to watch over me. It was a twisted, downward spiral, deep into madness. I just about destroyed my life, risking it in dramatic ways. God continued to come to my rescue, even despite my rebellion. Finally, I gave up, deciding I just wanted to completely escape from life as I knew it, and, after attempting to end my life, I decided to seek dramatic help from professionals. I thought I got better, and so did they, but the old fears and feelings of helplessness returned. And I would try the professional help again, then go off on my own, then do it all over again.

Then something dramatic, but very different, happened. I met a very caring, sweet woman, who would soon become my wife. My relationship with her was a long stillness, in a raging storm. Things got better, at least on the outside, and I went through the motions of religion, but deep down, the raging storm continued. The fear and sense of helplessness would bob it’s head up in my secret thoughts and feelings, but we fooled ourselves into thinking our lives were under control. What I believe we wouldn’t admit, was that it was really us trying to be in control. We both practiced religion, she earnestly prayed, just like I had in the past, and we both would occasionally see some light peeking out from the dark clouds, and we knew it was God, taking care of us, but I also knew, it was not due to any faith on my part. And although she may have kept us somewhat afloat with her broken, old time religion, and, yes, her simple faith, and perhaps it also was helped through the loving prayers of our supportive families and friends, I knew, I was still severely damaged goods. I was rotting on the inside, though I appeared to have it somewhat together. My faults were looked at as idiosyncrasies, just part of being human, even by those who knew, as just part of having a mental illness. But I knew my well was dry.

So, then it happened. I entered crisis mode. But things had changed in twenty years, with professional help. I learned many new coping skills, ways to reach out, and ways to take care of myself. I even told myself that I was getting closer to God again, despite the many suggestions of my friends, who tried to lovingly point out, that I was not moving any closer to God. In fact, they said, I may be moving away from him. And although I passionately denied it, even to myself, deep in my heart, I knew that I was not moving closer to God. I told myself and others that I knew God, that I loved God. I told them that I had been so hurt by the members of the church, so judged, so betrayed. Someone suggested that it was just my mental illness giving me that understanding, that it wasn’t as bad as it seemed. I brushed aside well meaning suggestions of the seemingly tired, ineffectual rituals of prayer, reading my bible, and attending church. In my heart, there was still a wall, hiding my eyes from seeing God, although God could, of course see me clearly, he knew the pain I was feeling, from not being in a truly healing relationship with him, and in compassion, I know he wept.

The Search for Goodness

Paradoxes have always both fascinated and frustrated me. I’m reading a wonderful book right now called Between the Dark and the Daylight: Embracing the Contradictions of Life, by Joan Chittister. The theme of the book is that every paradox of life has a goodness that we can gain from each side of it. The catch is that we need to be willing to accept, learn and grow from them, and in my experience, that is more difficult than it sounds. She believes that God is a part of our healing, but she lays it out in a very nonjudgmental way, full of psychological knowledge and wisdom from a sage whom has been there in the darkness and can point the way out.

In Chapter 13, she addresses an idea with which many of us struggle: trying to be perfect. The title of the chapter is called, “The Temptation of Sinlessness.” Many people are immediately turned off at the mere mention of the word “sin.” I think that is because it has been used so inappropriately in our culture. As far back as the times of Jesus of Nazareth, there was a struggle between people who wanted to remain sinless and Jesus, who said to a rich man that the only way to be “perfect” (not sinless) was to sell everything he had and give the money to the poor. Then he would have treasure in heaven. Jesus said to “then come and follow me.” The term “perfect”, as it was used then, did not mean sinless. Chittister would say it meant holy, which I understand from her use of that word to mean healthy and loving.

Well, jump forward to the times of Saint Augustine, one of the Fathers of the Christian Church, and whom Sister Chittister points out in the second paragraph of Chapter 13 as “the expert on sin, confession and repentance,” and the plot thickens, in my opinion. Augustine said, “This is our perfection: to find out our imperfections.” The thought that came to me as soon as I read this was that he is not saying perfection is to avoid sin, and he’s certainly not saying that perfection is to stop sinning. He just says to find out what your sins are. Chittister points out throughout the chapter that this awareness is for a special purpose: Acceptance. Stop rejecting yourself, and then you will stop rejecting others.

I have spent much of my life trying not to sin, and I think many of my Christian friends and family have done the same. In some ways, it is just a part of the “Christian American Way.” So, how much time, effort and energy have you spent trying to stop sinning? Do you think it is possible, or do you agree with Jesus, and Chittister, that all this obsession with sinlessness is really a form of hatred of ourselves, which is then projected onto others? I think the first step in the process of healing, what Chittister would call “holiness” is accepting God’s infinite, unconditional love for us. The next step is accepting and loving ourselves.

I have bipolar disorder, and one method I have used to cope with various symptoms is called “thought suppression.” Sometimes, I seem to avoid conflict, and that is probably what I learned when I was young. But, these days, I have learned that a better solution is mindfulness, the mental process of focusing on what is happening in the here and now. It takes practice, but it works great for redirecting energy and attention that would usually go to worrying, anxiety, obsessing, acting inappropriately (like in a meeting at work, in therapy, or while just “listening” to a friend or family member. Wow, I know). The reason I mention all this is that it is a healthy way to get out of the “I’ve got to be perfect” mindset, and we aren’t constantly stressing ourselves out with self-loathing or self-hatred, and then projecting it onto others. I still struggle every day, but I think I’m moving in the right direction, and that’s what really counts!

The process of discovering our sins is simply one step in an effort for personal growth, not to make us become sinless, but to make us aware of our needs, so that we can be capable of loving ourselves, loving God, and loving others. At the end of the chapter, Chittister repeats Augustine’s words, then says “we never need fear our capacity to sin against God by sinning against others.” I instantly anticipated the flip side which is covered in the next chapter. I struggle with this other side of the paradox as well. She calls it, “The Struggle Between Guilt and Growth.”

I worry constantly in fear of doing the wrong thing, and being punished for it, judged not by God, but by other family, friends, authorities and anyone else I meet on a daily basis. I struggle with guilt, shame, and, occasionally, telling the truth, when I am too afraid of what might happen if I do. I happen to be an artist. I write poetry and draw abstract pictures. Most people say my creations are hard to understand, but some say they are beautiful. I have a really hard time accepting the second part. I look at my art, and it looks ugly, sickening, perverted, demented, scary and dangerous. I think about thoughts that occasionally pass through my mind, or feelings I’ve had, or memories of things I’ve done that I’ve perceived as wrong, or tried to cover up because I was afraid to tell the truth about them. Terror fills my soul about these things. And so, Sister Chittister would agree, in those areas, and perhaps in others, as my fears grow, I’m not psychologically or spiritually growing. I’m stuck.

Another author that I’ve read, Ram Dass, in his book, “Be Here Now”, would say the process is to notice these dark thoughts, feelings, even actions, and say “yes, that” “it does exist” and to accept it, which enables you to not be mastered by it. The next step is to redirect to what is happening now, to be where you are, in the moment, and move on to life in the present, which means freedom, serenity, love, the place where we all need to be. I hope and believe I am on that path, very slowly, full of hiccups and failures, but I’m trying, I’m making an effort, and I’m growing. I believe we all can do it, no matter how many problems we have, or how many times we’ve failed,  or even how bad those problems or failures have been. We can all get there, maybe not right away, certainly not completely. Life is a journey. We are all on that journey together. We just need a little courage, and the willingness to try, and to keep trying. Let us go together, in search of goodness.