This blog has moved!

I wanted to give a special thanks to all of my friends that have supported me and provided me with feedback on my preliminary run of blog projects. In accordance with feedback and my own personal choice I have chosen to break the concept of this test run blog up into two separate blogs with more focused and specific subjects which I will be hosting on my own personal website. Posts pertaining to my personal life and self-improvement mission can be found at my “Feather of Lead” blog, here:

http://featheroflead.com/blog

Subjects pertaining to media reviews (of movies, tv, internet, books, etc.) can be found at my “Media Mask” blog, here:

http://featheroflead.com/MediaMask

See you guys at my new blogs!

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Religion and me, part 2 – The seven components of my current spirituality

Now that I have recounted a comprehensive view of my history with religion, I shall endeavor to capture and convey the religion/spiritual beliefs that have evolved into what I believe today. I’m going to warn you right now… this blog post is going to be very deep, heavy, complex, and intertwined and it’s pretty much most definitely too long and confusing. Please let me know if you need further explanation or clarification of anything. Since I do not claim to be the sole founder of my own particular specific brand of religion, from here on out I shall refer to my “religion,” simply, as my “spirituality.” I’ve managed to identify seven core components that comprise my spirituality and I will briefly outline each one and then elaborate on them in preceding paragraphs.

1) As I stated in part 1, having to fully believe in my spirituality with all my heart is my first core component. 2) I also stated that my spirituality must incorporate logic (even though many people might at first think that logic and faith can’t coexist very well.) 3) My spirituality must serve me a positive purpose e.g., the function of my spirituality is to improve my life. 4) “Illustrated thinking” is another core component of my spirituality. By “illustrated thinking” I mean that I implore the use of metaphor and imagery with my spiritual beliefs as a way to simplify otherwise complex concepts. (I will elaborate on this concept further below). 5) The final component of my spirituality requires the freedom to always be subject to speculation and open to constant revision. It is worth noting that this fifth component holds an interesting dialectic relationship with the first (this will be further explained later in this post). 6) Lastly, a subset of component five includes a respect of the idea that, however much we may think we know and understand about our existence, in truth, we essentially know nothing relative to the infinite possibilities and complexities that exist in all of the “universe” (many of which lay outside the realm of human comprehension). 7) Okay, I lied. There is another component. (can you tell that I’m filling these in as I go along?) Post humorously and paradoxically, the final subset component piggybacks off of component six: Since there is an infinite amount that we do not know, my spirituality must therefore contain no extremes.

Component 1, Follow your heart:
My humiliating Christian testimony experience (as outlined in part 1 of “Religion and me”) re-enforced in me a lesson that is the first core component of my spirituality: I refuse to claim that I believe anything unless I truly believe it fully in my heart. This places a great deal of faith into the idea that, at my deepest level, I am a good and honest person with a perfect heart. I may have a flawed means of expressing that perfection (because, hey, let’s be real: I’m only human!) but, fundamentally, core component number one assumes that the goodness of my heart will ultimately prevail, thus illuminating my perfect (or, best, at least) personal “truth.”

Component 2, Logic is the founding method:
In search of spiritual truth, I employ the tool of logic to remain grounded. Sorry… No beliefs in the flying spaghetti monster here. Logic allows me a process to evaluate and refine my understandings of spiritual truth. I mentioned that people may have a hard time accepting the coexistence of faith and logic (science). I believe that God exists… How can that be logical or scientific? Atheists would argue that God is some hocus pocus big-man-in-the-sky type joke –no more worth of worship than the (dare I say) fictional flying spaghetti monster. Many religions have varying views on who or what “God” is (which, in my opinion serves a purpose in conjunction with core components three and four to be explained later). My definition of “God” is the infinite series of powers, truths, and information that we can never know. Is it not logical to assume that there are things outside of our understanding and even out ability to understand? We can always advance our and evolve our understandings (via core component number five), yes –but no matter how much that happens –in relation to infinity, our sum knowledge effectively becomes 0 (as recognized in core component number six). By it’s very definition, science is the search for truth –or, to illustrate the concept of “truth” (core component four), we can say that it is the search for “God.” (Benjamin Franklin would be proud of that statement. See this Wikipedia article on the religion called “Deism”)

And yet, here we arrive at another dialectic in honor of component seven (the component that says that my spirituality is to contain no extremes). To assume that logic is the only true framework with which to examine, improve, and experience spirituality would be an extreme statement. Indeed there can be benefit to giving value to that which lays outside of the realm of logic. There are occasions (although they seem to occur less often) wherein my spirituality permits me to traverse the boundary of logic provided that such an action would head benefit with negligible harm to myself or others.

Component 3, Spirituality is for bettering yourself:
You might be asking yourself, “well, if our relative summation of knowledge and understanding will always comparatively be 0, why even bother to figure out anything at all?!” The answer to that is core component number three: I bother to incorporate spirituality into my life because it helps me live a life that is even more worth living. Spirituality is fun! It facilitates growth and learning, it comforts me when I am down, it fuels my fascination and curiosity, and it probably does a thousand other positive things that I am not totally aware of. I bother with spirituality because it helps me live and enjoy my life.

Component 4, “Illustrated thinking” is useful:
“Illustrated thinking” is probably the most fun core component of my spirituality. I am a very visual person –I derive great pleasure for aesthetic beauty and divine organization. As also a theatre person, I have a great and deep respect for symbolism, metaphor, and story telling. “Illustrated thinking” allows me streamlined and entertaining ways to examine and manage complex or difficult concepts. Perhaps I can, ironically, illustrate for you an example of illustrated thinking: Prayer is a commonly known form of illustrated thinking that I frequently utilize. Let’s say that I just applied and interviewed for a new job that I really really hope I get. For the most part, after having already interviewed –the outcome of if I get the job is pretty much out of my hands. By praying, I am collecting and honoring my deep desires and passing them off to God. But who or what am I referring to when I mention “God” in this instance. If I wanted to be cerebral, intellectual, logical (or maybe “silly” is a more apt word) I could say that “God,” in this example of prayer is the infinite separation of knowing the future in the single moment within which I am praying. More likely than that, however, -I’ll admit it- I part slightly from logic (component 3) to utilize a classic, arguably irrational belief: that there is some supernatural being that cares that I’m praying to “Him.” It is okay for me to break from logic because my prayer is essentially not hurting anyone and it serves the purpose of helping to comfort me. Logic may still be implored, however, to understand what underlying forces may be occurring that would enable me to have my irrational faith in prayer (see “my greatest strength” blog post where I discuss attachment theory as it relates to achieving comfort.)

Regardless of if I chose to view prayer as logical or not it serves a positive purpose for me. I shall attempt to elaborate by providing a concrete example: I may pray by closing my eyes and imagining a hovering benevolent cloud (a classic image of God) with which I hand off my hopes and desires. The illustrative device of praying (talking to an imagined god) is a simplified expression of an otherwise unwieldy complex quantitative experience… I credit my experience with Christianity to the discovery of this very useful way to let go of the anxiety and fear that tends to confound living a happy life. The fun part of my illustrated thinking component comes with the freedom to assign any creative visualization to any situation to suit any purpose in the pursuit of self-betterment. How many boring stifling limiting religions will let you do that? I kid you not: sometimes I imagine myself hanging out on a windy day in a grass field in New Zealand with Gandalph from Lord of the Rings. For some reason Gandalph is really good at comforting me and reminding me to have faith that everything will turn out as it should.

Component 5, Everything is subject to scrutiny and revision:
Much like the Constitution of the United States, the fifth component of my spirituality necessitates the condition that it must be always up for scrutinous review and revision. I believe evaluation and the freedom to expand and grow is necessary in conjunction with component 1 (that I must believe my spirituality with all my heart). Indeed, the heart is an always changing, always evolving entity itself –so it makes sense that that freedom also be incorporated with my spirituality. (In fact, when I think about it, there is little difference between my spirituality and my heart –or even, my spirituality is just a creative extension of what is in my heart. As I write all of this down I find it fascinating how it seems to have fallen onto the page with a stark resemblance to the Constitution.

Component 6, Relative to infinity we know nothing:
No matter how much I think I may know, in reality, I know nothing relative to the infinite possibilities that exist beyond my ability (and mankind’s ability) to comprehend. The “universe” extends into infinity. Granted, I realize that, technically, science has determined that our known universe is finite. When I use the term “universe” (with quotes) I am referring to everything that is –which could include an infinite number of parallel universes, whatever lies beyond our universe, etc (even stuff which, like I said, we can’t even comprehend.) I assume that there is some sort of “stuff” that exists in infinity –and, therefore, essentially, God is infinity. I find this notion comforting! If there are infinity universes with infinity possibilities, then that would mean that somewhere in some universe there must exist a “better” version of myself. (By better I mean happier and more satisfied.) Oddly, for reasons I’m having trouble understanding or explaining, that makes me feel motivated to try to be that better self. Perhaps it is just a reminder that possibilities for improvement are always out there. To look at it in another, arguably nihilistic way –I’m comforted because what does it matter if things aren’t as good as they could be in my life when somewhere in some universe they are (and therefore I don’t have to be.) Component six of my spirituality is very trippy and also humbling. No matter how big my problems may feel –they are nothing in comparison to the scope of the infinite realities that exist. Any finite number divided by infinity equals zero. I can never know even 0.0000000001% of all that there is to know. This idea brings me to a catch phrase that I like to use: “Everything matters, nothing matters, neither and both.” Did that just hurt your head? Good –it was supposed to, don’t worry about it. (That catch phrase is gonna need a blog post of it’s own in the future…)

Component 7, Never allow extremes:
Ugg! Are you still reading this?! Okay, the final final component to my spirituality is the notion that no extremes must exist in what I believe. This is a subset notion of Components five and six (everything must be open to scrutiny, and there must be a respect of the infinite). If I believe in an extreme then I am not respecting the possibilities of alternatives. My philosophy is that alternatives always exist (even if they lay outside of my ability to perceive). But, wait! Isn’t “there must be no extremes” an extreme rule, itself? Caught me! Yes it is. I guess sometimes I must believe in extremes (although I can’t think of any off the top of my head). Component seven exists, primarily to keep me on track with remembering that things can always improve or be looked at in a different way. From my experience and observation, it seems that much of human suffering stems from some sort of extreme belief. I imagine, therefore, that thinking in extremes is generally unhealthy and should not be desires most all of the time.

Geez! If you seriously have continued reading this far I am pretty impressed… Now that I have attempted to encapsulate my experience of spirituality, it is clear to me that it is extremely complex –and yet, the beauty of it is that it exists within me in a simplistic form as indicated with core component number one: I believe what my heart tells me to believe. That’s the real key –because that is what will serve me the greatest amount of happiness and benefit. I appreciate anyone who can honestly say that their religion or spirituality fully and complete meshes with what their heart. To the people who can claim that –I salute you! Keep doing your thing (as long as, hopefully, you aren’t hurting yourself or other people.) If you have been with a religion or spirituality for a while and things just don’t feel quite right (as became the case with me and Christianity) I would urge you to explore and allow yourself to think and evolve to a place where you are more at peace with your own beliefs. If our universe contains infinite information and possibilities, why not construct for yourself what brings you the most joy, love, happiness, and satisfaction? That’s what I’ve been striving for, pretty much.

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Religion and me, part 1 – My history

I’ve mentioned “God” in several of my recent posts and I’ve noticed that as a result I’ve had several people ask me what my religious affiliation/history/understanding is. I’ve never really tried to capture my opinions on the matter fully so I figured it could be an interesting experience to try to lay my thoughts on the matter out plainly here on this blog. I encourage any of you readers to ask me additional questions or share your thoughts if you’d like (either privately or publicly).

I’ll start by laying out my history with religion. I was raised with Presbyterian Christian values (i.e., morals) but my family never formally practiced religion (until recently) nor did they take me to church, per say. I recall visiting a couple churches with my parents when I was really little. For a short while my parents tried to find a church that they liked but they could never find or agree on one. It wasn’t until my last year of high school that I had any particularly pertinent direct formal experience with religion.

During my senior year in high school I remember being faced with a dilemma: My girlfriend at the time (a devout Christian) struggled with a statement that I made: “I don’t really know much about any god and I don’t particularly feel that I have any need for that to change,” I told her. Her response was that she got very sad. Teary eyed, she told me that that was “one of the saddest things [she] could imagine.” She also told me that she wasn’t sure that she’d be able to continue being in a relationship with me if it truly was the case that I held no interest in God. For her, God was of number one importance in her life. She wanted to build her life around Him and needed all elements (including her boyfriend) to coincide. Either I would have to try to get to know God (the Christian God) or else I’d lose my girlfriend. I was really into my girlfriend at the time so I figured, “hey, what could it hurt trying to learn more about what it means to be a Christian? I’m not necessarily betraying my own faith or any of my own beliefs or anything.” And so it was… My glorious entry into Christianity began. It took an attractive girl, but hey -who am I to argue with God’s plan 😉

For about a year I got very involved with church. I went to youth group with my girlfriend and… to my surprise, I actually really enjoyed it! Everyone was so friendly, caring, and supportive. We got together as a community and did wonderful things for people in need (sandwiches for the homeless, building houses for those in need, donating toys, etc). I had lots of questions to ask (as I always do) and I found that people were very obliged to answer as best they could. My youth minister, I recall, gave me a magnifying glass one day in honor and appreciation of how much I would search for answers in trying to bring myself closer to God. I learned to pray and I learned to recognize signs of God communicating with me -concepts with which, until Christianity, were completely unfamiliar. Prayer and interpreting signs from God are probably the two biggest components of Christianity that I continue to carry with me today.

Unfortunately, with all my searching and question asking, there were a few fundamental issues that I held with Christianity which I was never able to resolve. The first issue, which never felt quite right to me, is a core one which I’m sure might be upsetting for any Christian to hear (you’ve been warned). I have no problem believing in an all-powerful God, but I disagree that a man (Jesus) was ever the actual embodiment of God (Son of God, or whatever)(or, if he was an embodiment of God, then I don’t believe that he was the only true embodiment). I believe there was an actual man named Jesus -and no doubt he was a great spiritual leader who had a great many ideas that were before his time -but I was never able to get my heart to fully believe and accept that he, himself, was a part of God -the one and only. Trust me, I’ve allowed myself all manner of ways to try to believe and accept Jesus as being “the son of God” -but nothing ever stuck. This leads me to believe that -if it were really true for me that Jesus was the son of God -then God would have lead me to truly believe so in my heart. Yes: for me, having to truly believe something in your heart is a necessary condition for me to accept a religion as my own.

Then there was the time that I still to this day feel shame about, when I betrayed my own beliefs as a result of some unfortunate happenings with my involvement with the Christian club at my high school… As a senior and a relatively popular kid at my school (thanks to my involvement with theatre and improv) I held a fair amount of clout as an example of someone who was “saved” by Christianity. The Christian club organized a BIG rally in the campus gym with the offer of providing free pizza to anyone who would attend (apparently food is another acceptable way for God to entice others to follow his “plan.”) Since I held clout with lots of kids on campus, I was asked to give my testimony in front of everyone at the assembly. Honored, I accepted the request and began to think up what I would say. They day came for the assembly, hundreds of kids (of course) showed up for the free pizza. In a few minutes I was to take a microphone and explain to everyone how and why I became a Christian. This was all fine and good… but then I was told that I HAD to include in my testimony that Jesus is the only way to be saved. I did not believe this in my heart -but I was very clearly told that it was essential that I say it. Despite my reservations… I caved to the pressure and did the bidding of our club’s president. Disclosing my personal experience of “finding God” to a anyone felt awkward to me enough, but to do in front of the hundreds of peers that had gathered… -it was anxiety provoking to say the least. Giving my testimony was made even harder by a few students who began to shout out and protest that I was telling lies in the middle of my testimony. I remember distinctly, there was one kid who, after I said (as instructed) that “Jesus is the only road to salvation,” jumped up and yelled “that’s not true! That’s a lie!” (He must have been a follower of a different faith and he found my statement offensive.) I did my best to stutter through the rest of my testimony anyway (even though, apparently I had also gone way over the amount of time that I was supposed to spend and our club president was vehemently trying to flag me down to wrap up). Looking back on my testimony experience I still feel a significant amount of shame and regret. I allowed myself to betray my own heart in front of hundreds of people by spreading something that I, myself, felt was untrue. “LIES!!” still resonates in my head.

My struggles with accepting Christianity involved other insurmountable qualms: These qualms involve social issues -namely, outdated sexist, anti-homosexual, and other such sentiments. My heart refuses to accept that a God would create someone to be homosexual (and please tell me that I don’t have to explain that being gay is not a choice) and then expect them to forsake that core part of themselves. There is no logic to that sentiment and it just seems kinda cruel and unnecessary -something that doesn’t mesh with my idea of a “benevolent god.” A degree of logic is another prerequisite for me to accept a religion as being my own. But wait a minute! Logic and faith?! Aren’t those contradicting forces that are unable to coexist? I would argue “no” (I shall delve deeply into this concept in part 2 of this post).

And then there is the idea that all non-Christians are, however sad it may be, destined to go to Hell after they die. What an awful prejudiced idea that most certainly doesn’t bind with my own beliefs. In all my questioning, no one was ever able to answer me this dilemma: What happens to the souls of some remote tribal group of people that never even has the chance to come in contact with any information about Christianity? Do they just automatically go to Hell? That doesn’t seem right/fair. No one has ever been able to give me any plausible response to that dilemma. Maybe those tribal people are just savages and don’t have souls -I don’t know :/

Despite unresolved qualms that I held with Christianity, after graduating high school and moving on to college I still wanted to seek out a new place to go to church. The community and social support aspects of church continued to appeal to me greatly. In college I found a Bible study group -but upon further investigation it appeared that the group was largely focused on preaching to non-believers -something that did not appeal to me -particularly given my shameful testimony experience (recounted above). Also, in college, the Christians appeared to be more polarized then they did at my former youth group. That is to say, rather than questioning and exploring more -it appeared to me as though they were standing up and fighting for righteous convictions more -convictions that I had disagreements with (as I have outlined above.) My attempts to find a church that suited me failed, and as such, I was ushered into a time of creating my own variation of religion/spirituality. Today I carry this modified form of religion with myself and derive a great deal of happiness, satisfaction, and strength from it. I am very deeply grateful for how Christianity has shaped my life and shaped the concepts and ideas that I employ today. Stay tuned for part 2 where I will attempt to outline what, exactly, it is that I do believe.

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Being a solid object (Arguably my biggest strength.)

I would like to talk about what I feel is arguably my biggest strength. In trying times remembering the positive can be an excellent way to make use of time. Nearly as far back as I can remember, I’ve frequently been told that I am someone who is good at helping other people by being a solid object for them. I would almost go so far as to say that this is a quality which, perhaps, I value in myself above all others. What does “being a solid object” mean, exactly? Well, I’ll tell yah. “Being a solid object” entails remaining calm and contained in the face of certain chaos.

A concrete example (albeit, exaggerated, perhaps) comes to mind comes from the time when I was working as a staff member in a group home for emotionally disturbed kids -a place where frequently “troubled” youth would lose containment over their emotions and “freak out.” Some kids would freak out outwardly: throwing chairs, fighting, cursing, threatening, and breaking things; some kids would freak out inwardly: shutting down, refusing to talk to anyone, cutting, or having suicidal thoughts. Those of us with clear memory of our teenage years probably understand some degree of what it means to “freak out.” Add to that abusive family histories, mental illness, unsafe living environments, (etc) and you have a recipe for some pretty spectacular blow out sessions (hence the exaggeratedness of this concrete example). At the group home where I worked, my skills and gifts as a staff member gained a positive reputation among clients and fellow counselors. Eventually it became not that uncommon for me to get placed to work with the kids who would freak out. My main strategy for responding to the various ways that kids would “freak out” was relatively simple: I became a grounding for them -a solid object. I would do this by simply “being with them” through their difficult emotional time. This would be accomplished, often times, by simply occupying the same space as the client while maintaining a calm and contained composure no matter how much the client would be out of control (assuming that they weren’t being too dangerous or unsafe). In Aikido (a Japanese martial art which literally translates as “the way of love”) many of the moves that are executed involve blending with your partner’s incoming hostile energy in such a way as to diffuse it and end up in alignment with your partner -often looking in the same direction as them. I mirror this technique when I am with an upset client: rather than facing them, I try to stand at their side -as if I am mirroring them from their perspective and honoring and accepting their state while simultaneously demonstrating an alternative calmer, more contained state. It doesn’t always work to calm the client down -but it certainly almost never hurts and almost always helps in some fashion at least after a little while.

When I am able to act as someone’s “solid object” something tends to occur which seems almost magical: simply being present and accepting of someone can enable them to access their own inner strength and containment. While this form of providing treatment may seem pretty simple (and in execution, the method is, in fact simple (for me anyway (we’ll get to that later))) -there is a whole host of subtle very complex exchanges occurring in an instance of me co-regulating with another person. Your right brain (the part of the brain that is concerned with emotion and creativity) is capable of taking in and processing thousands of times more information than that of your left brain (the part that deals with logic and analyzing). This could be a reason why simply demonstrating a calm state can be more effective than attempting to talk or rationalize to the other person how or why they should calm themselves. It’s actually quite remarkable to observe a successful co-regulation -I’ve found it to be one of if not THE biggest tool in my arsenal of helping other people.

Now I’m inclined to wonder: why does it come so naturally to me to be calm and contained for other people when they are in chaos? From my observations, it appears as though such a skill does not come as easily to other people (hence, other staff members placing me with the kids who were “out of control”). I have a particular strength and foundation in some sort of truth that everything will turn out okay no matter what. Why do I feel that way? Why is it harder for others to hold the faith that everything will be okay no matter what? (I’m actually asking these questions because I don’t totally have a clear answer.) I would hedge a guess that perhaps it has to do with me having grown up with a secure and healthy attachment to my loving parents: to break that down to a basic and primal attachment theory fashion: scary monsters don’t scare me as much because it has been programed into me that I can always run back to Mom and Dad who will keep me safe. Many (perhaps most?) people don’t have the fortune to have grown up with totally secure attachments, and as such, they have a level of ambivalence or a shakiness to their faith that their parents would be able to keep them safe from scary monsters -either because their parents, themselves were the scary monsters -or, perhaps, their parents simply wouldn’t be there to run back to at all. But certainly, one’s level of security or stability or “faith that everything will be okay” couldn’t only ride on the factor of their relationship to their parents. What other factors are at play here? I’d guess that perhaps spirituality plays a part here? (But then, is my spirituality merely an extension of my attachment to my parents??)

I find great strength in the spiritual philosophy that I have come to develop for myself: I believe that everything matters, nothing matters, neither, and both. Did I just hurt your head? Well, that philosophy is supposed to hurt your head. I guess the “head hurting” is a strange reminder for me that there are mysteries in life that will forever be beyond my limited understanding. There are systems at work that I will never have the full capacity to completely understand from all view points. “God,” I suppose, may be the word that many people may use to label this concept. I choose to view God as a benevolent force. Many religions hold that claim as well -however, in experimenting with a few religions myself, I have found that religion tends to enable flawed man-made constructs which steer the original concept of a “truly benevolent god” off course… (e.g., religion makes up all these rules such as “god will only truly value you if [xyz irrelevant condition] is true.”) For me, I find it easy to envision god as being benevolent because I was fortunate enough to have been raised so benevolently. In essence, my construct of “god” has now become an internalization of my secure attachment to my parents.

I recall reading on the back of some random “science meets faith” book that, evolutionarily, man may have maintained a capacity for spirituality because it serves as an elegant way for us to handle our innate fear of death. We have an advanced ability and awareness (in comparison to other animals) to create methods which can increase the duration and quality of our own life -yet that level of intelligence also opens us up to the ability to ponder potentially frightening complex questions such as: what meaning does our life have or not have? What happens to us when we die? etc… There was a part of our brain that was allowed to persist in developing so that we could have the capacity to have “faith” -which is a quality that serves to motivate and comfort us.

A necessary component of being a solid object for someone is holding the possibility (the faith) that things will get better even (and especially) when the other person may be in a state wherein they do not have the resources needed to be able to hold that faith themselves. I am grateful for my past and I am grateful for my spirituality; both afford me what is arguably my best strength. When times are tough I shall ride true -even if things get stormy. What is your greatest strength?

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Risking love, part 4 – finding hope

After my day of emotional purging, I was ready to reunite with my girl. Worries crept into my mind as I patiently rode the train down to where she lived. There was palpable distance between us now, and I feared that it would be a distance that perhaps I would not be able to close. I told my girl not to meet me at the train station like usual -instead I would take the local public transportation and then walk to get to her apartment. I wanted her to see that I was not expecting anything from her -that if need be, I could take care of myself and return to San Francisco if things wouldn’t work for me to stay. My heart quickened as I approached her doorstep. It was clear to me how much I cared about this girl and desperately wanted us to find mutual ground where we could both be okay and on the same page.

I arrived, opened the door to my girl’s apartment, and came to discover that she was no where to be found inside. Confused, I figured she must have gone to do her laundry. I turned to look towards the laundry room at which point in time I found her walking towards me from the pool where she had just been reading. It was nice to see her and I noticed myself have a strong flash of desire and hope that things would go well with our talk. We headed indoors, chatted for a bit, and then set to talking about “us stuff.” There was still a noticeable sense of distance between us but my impression was that it would be mend-able with a little discussion. I asked my girl if she had read my blog where I admitted my secret of having feelings of love for her. She said that she had. Next, I apologized and accepted responsibility for allowing myself to get more attached and deeply connected to my girl than, perhaps, I should have in lieu of her warnings that she still had potential feelings for someone else. I briefly told my girl how hard and painful (yet also fascinating and amazing) it had been for me yesterday to go through so many intense feelings in response to hearing her decision to go and see what she might have with the guy from her past. Hearing about the degree of hurt that I had experienced appeared to be hard for my girl. She doubled into a ball and lay motionless and expressionless on her bed for several moments. I tried to explain to her that I did not hold her fully accountable for the intensity of my pain -I had allowed myself to feel love for her despite her warnings for me not to and therefore it was my responsibility that I was in as much pain as I was. I also reiterated to my girl that I really care deeply for her and, as such, it was my intention to fully support her decision to follow her own heart to go and see what she might have with the man from her past. She seemed more surprised by my offer of support than I would have guessed. I had told her earlier that I intended to support her even though I didn’t want her to go -but it seemed to me that perhaps she thought that my not wanting to go wouldn’t coexist with me supporting her decision to go. Slowly the distance between us began to close throughout the rest of the evening. I asked her if I could stay overnight and she said “yes.” I told her that I wanted to still go to Disneyland with her and she appeared pleased and relieved by that. With time and continued trust, much to my relief, we eventually wound up being okay. With time I came to learn that my girl viewed my decision to support her as “courageous.” This made me feel very good.

Courage is something that I will need much of as October approaches and my girl’s date with the man from her past draws increasingly near. I can sense in myself growing anxiety and fear about the worst that could happen to me following my girl’s date with the man from her past: that it might prompt a situation where I lose my girl. I have never had my heart fully broken -mainly because I have almost never fully allowed myself to fall in love with anyone. With my girl, getting my heart broken is a very real possibility. I am left, now, with two choices: to forfeit to fear and run away before I get hurt so that, at least, I’d feel in control of my loss; or, to take a chance on love -to have faith in myself and my wealth of gifts that make me an excellent lover. How on earth could I ever not chose the later option. Every movie, every book, every story, every song -they all say with an emphatic and resounding “yes!” that love must win out against fear at all costs. When I look deep into my heart the answer is clear: I’m going to take a chance on myself and on this girl. Our love together, if given the chance, could be something incredibly amazing and fulfilling! Another very real possibility could be that things for she and I don’t work out. I hate to think of the heartbreak that would cause me -yet, to deny my heart the chance to see what “could be” would be the greatest betrayal that I could ever lay upon myself and my mission in life.

The Lost video below very aptly portrays the excitement and mix of feelings that I notice myself having with decision to stay strong and hope for the best with my relationship with my girl. Each character in the video feels like a part of myself and a part of how I feel about my situation -particularly Sun, who is very deeply invested and quietly hopeful.

With my decision to stand tall for love I will turn to prayer, faith, and hope for comfort. In any outcome I will emerge a better man -and if I am lucky, a better man with a love. (THE END.)

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Risking love, part 3 – the purge

…And so began my quest to purge my emotions and hopefully arrive in a place where I feel more whole, forgiving, and accepting of myself, my limitations, and my dilemma with my girl… My purging journey lasted an entire day and, at times, I felt as though it was both a distraction for my intolerable emotions and also a release valve for them (more so, the latter). Movies help me draw out poisons one at a time so that each can be validated and eased to a manageable level.

First I yearned for something that would validate my elaborate inner world of vivid colors and intense feelings. I needed a sort of film that would acknowledge the beautiful complexities of all the contradictory emotions that I was simultaneously experiencing: Awe and terror, peace and fear, love and hate, fascination and disgust. To start my purge, I turned to Baz Luhrmann -a master of deep emotion and beautiful explosions of color. I reached for Moulin Rouge, which, over the years, had gotten buried because I grew to find it sappy and over-emotional. Now was a time when I was feeling highly emotional, however, so Moulin Rouge, felt like the right place for me to start my quest to master my feelings. I started watching at the end of the film -when the “evil Duke” forced Satin to convince Christian that she didn’t love him and that he should leave her forever. I fantasized that this was what was merely happening with in my own life. My girl didn’t really want to go off to see about being with another man -she just had too because he was in a position of power over her. This of course, is by no means the truth in reality (she is going off to see him because her heart is telling her that she needs to)… but in the stages of grief one usually starts with denial. Putting myself in Christian’s shoes helped me bleed the start of an intense array of feelings -at this early point in my purge it didn’t matter if the feelings I was experiencing were founded in truth. As I observed Christian’s feelings unfold on screen, I allowed myself to feel them as well: devastation, doubt, confusion, disbelief, desolation. By the end of the movie, in the moment when it was revealed that Satin had, in fact, been lying to Christian for the sake of saving him from being killed by the Duke -my feelings diverged from the characters’ on screen. Satin had, in fact, truly loved Christian all along. This differed from my situation and the realization of that reality gave way to my own pain, fear, sadness that contrasted, rather than paralleled, what was happening on the screen. In some strange way I convinced myself that my story somehow seemed more tragic than the one in the movie since my girl didn’t already love me enough to not need to go and see what she might have with another man. I cried. … Then the ending of the movie came when Satin died from illness, and, although Satin and Christian’s love had been rectified, Christian is left alone -avenged in his love, yes, yet, forever disconnected from being able to share it with his lover. This idea prompted me to imagined how I would feel if my girl chose the man from her past over me. I felt great sadness and pain from that idea. I was acquiring mastery over the difficult feelings that might come when/if my girl does, in fact, decide that she cannot be with me anymore. Through the Moulin Rouge I was able to safely explore some very difficult possibilities. Crying made me feel better. My tears turned into a beautiful gratefulness and an appreciation for the realization that I could care so deeply and so greatly for someone and something in my life.

Next I felt an impulse to watch another one of Bhaz Luhrman’s tragedies: Romeo + Juliet. I began the film at the part where Mercutio and Benvolio were being playful and rowdy on the beach. The playfulness gave me distance and rest from the intense feelings that I had just been experiencing from watching the end of Moulin Rouge. I knew, however, that soon the movie would dissolve into a scene dealing with the rejection of love which eventually would give way to intense uncontrolled anger. I sympathized with Romeo when he attempted to pacify a rage-filled Tybalt. Romeo’s love for Juliet was so great that he initially refused to fight Tybalt despite being relentlessly instigated. This “doing the ‘right thing’ for love” felt similar to my decision to support my girl even though I don’t want her to go to see the man from her past. When Mercutio, hot with anger and ready for a fight, stepped into the fray, the tipping point for Romeo was soon reached. Tybalt killed Mercutio who was trying to avenge Romeo’s honor. Mercutio’s murder triggered Romeo into an uncontrolled rage: Romeo ran to his car -his friends tried to stop him, but he was too empowered by his intense anger. In his car Romeo chased and ultimately crashed into a fleeing Tybalt -spilling him out of his car. In a frenzy, Romeo ran to Tybalt, who, upon managing to stumble out of his wrecked car, somehow clumsily recovered and drew his gun toward Romeo. “Either thou, or I, or both must go with him!!!” Screamed Romeo, impassioned and desperate -grabbing Tybalt’s gun and holding it to his own head. Tybalt, in shock of Romeo’s passion and recklessness, froze. In that brief moment of hesitation, Romeo gave into his lusting vengeful impulses, negating forethought: He grabbed Tybalt’s gun and shot him with it with the rage and pain of his heart. … There was a pause. In a slowed moment wherein Romeo tragically realized the gravity of his action, Romeo looked to the sky and yelled “I am fortune’s fool!”

Anger is the second stage of grieving. Watching Romeo give in to his intense feelings of anger helped me to safely explore and vent my feelings of anger towards myself (for feeling like somehow I am “not good enough”), my girl (for feeling like she doesn’t value my love enough to want to stay with me), the man from my girl’s past (for the threat that he poses), and the universe (for forcing me to face the possibility that my heart may get broken). The movies that I was choosing, one by one, were allowing me to separate my huge mess of tangled emotions to work through everything at a manageable level.

Next I watched the ending of Revolutionary Road -a very dark and depressing movie. :::SPOILER WARNING::: I started watching from my favorite scene when April returns from the forest after having a terrible terrible fight with Frank, her husband: Before returning to the inside of her home, April took a moment to lean against a tree and light a cigarette. The camera slowly pans around her face until we see her look up. The audience finds that she has changed. Where once there was hope and passion in her eyes, now there resided nothing more than a dark emptiness. April is completely numb and already dead. This is one of the most brilliant and powerful moments in acting that I have ever seen in cinema. The look on April’s face conveys so much without the need of even a single word of dialogue. You see the culmination of her depression and her dark resolution to find a way out -a way out that ultimately resulted in her death. Watching April on the screen allowed me to explore another dimension of feeling that I was experiencing: desolation, hopelessness, numbness, loneliness, and depression (the next stage of grief). I continued to watch events unfold, until ultimately, Frank is given the shocking news at the hospital that April has died from a self-afflicted act. Frank was utterly ruined and completely devastated. He gasped for air and faltered, weak in the knees -unable to take in the calamity and tragedy of his fate and the scope of what sort of dreadful part he must have played in it all. This was a feeling that I imagine I will experience if I find out that my girl is choosing to leave me. With Frank, I was able to practice what I fear I may have to one day face if things don’t work out with me and my girl. Revolutionary Road helped me to safely experience the sensation of having my heart get broken.

Watching all of these very intense and depressing movies helped to keep me distracted from my left brain’s tendency to run around in circles in it’s seemingly futile attempts to encapsulate and understand my feelings. Instead of rationalizing away my troubles -I used my right brain to wade through them -one by one, in a manageable fashion. To end my purging for the day, I decided to go by myself to a theater to watch Inception for the second time -except this time I would watch it on the ginormous IMAX screen. (What better way to fully and forcefully engage my right brain, eh?). Inception helped me to feel better in several ways: 1) It gave me some perspective on the scope of my problem: Inception deals with the question “what is reality?” It proposes the idea that perhaps all that we see and comprehend is not the whole picture of what is actually happening. Certainly there may be layers of existence occurring outside of our direct consciousness. I’m not totally sure why or how, but that notion gives me an odd comfort. It allots me distance from my fears and pains and it reminds me that life exists outside of my limited means of experiencing it. Therefore, just because I may feel like any given situation is the end of the world -it likely is, in fact, not. 2) There was a scene that I found particularly comforting: Near the end of Inception :::SPOILER WARNING::: Cobb is forced to dive deep into his own subconscious “limbo” where he has to face his memory of his dead wife, Mal. Throughout the film Cobb was unable to let go of the memory of Mal -and as a result she made several appearances that confounded or complicated his missions in the dream world. He suffered because he was too afraid and in pain to move on from his guilt about having accidentally murdered Mal. At the end, however, Cobb found redemption when he realized that the image of Mal that he held on to so tightly was nothing more than mere conception of her -one which was no where near as precious as the real infinitly more complex real Mal. In that moment he accepted that the real Mal was dead and that he needed to let go of his conception of her in order to move on. “I love you, but I’m going to have to let you go now” he told her. Even in the face of fear, Cobb found acceptance of himself and he found the courage to let go and move on. This idea moved me to tears. If I am going to survive the potential loss of my girl, I am going to have to accept that I did everything that I could (in my limited capacity as a human being) to share my love and myself with her. If that is not enough for her than we simply were not meant to be. Yes, losing my girl would hurt very much -but at least I will have peace knowing that I gave my all. … This is the final stage of grief: acceptance.

I am so eternally thankful for movies and the internal adventures and challenges that they allot me. Movies help me to see and understand myself. The remind me how -even (and perhaps especially) in my moments of greatest despair- life and the world are beautiful. Having bled and sorted my emotions I was now ready to return to my girl and face whatever reality would be awaiting… (to be continued)

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Risking love, part 2 – the complication

“Once upon a time there was this man, this man that I fell for –who I shared an electricity with.” Months ago and all along the way she warned me: “It was so real and so powerful that I can’t ignore it. He lives far away and things have been complicated for him -and for us. I’ve only been able to see him a few times over the last year. There have been times that I have doubted my hopes for what we could have, but now, finally, I might have a chance to go and see what there actually is. I am sorry if that hurts you -I care about you deeply and I don’t want you to be in pain but… I can’t lie to myself and I can’t lie to you. There is something in my heart and I have to go and see what it is or else it will kill me to always wonder.”

These are words that are familiar to me –close to my heart and my understanding. I shared a similar experience with the girl from my past. I know what it is to leave someone in pursuit of a potential greater love. I am scared that now that I am on the side that gets left alone. I want my girl to stay with me -but how could I ever keep someone from following her heart? To do that would be one of the worst things a person could do to another. “I don’t want you to go,” I explained, “but I support that that is something that you feel like you need to do. And I can’t thank you enough for being honest with yourself and with me.” I braced myself for the pain that I knew would come with letting my girl go.

My heart crumbled. Questions of fear and doubt came tumbling in –both of our relationship and of myself. “Am I not satisfying her in some way that she needs? Am I not the kind of person who is able to satisfy her? Am I not good enough for her? Am I not good enough, period? Did I set myself up for a failure? Am I playing out a story that I built for myself that always ends in such a way as to prove a truth that I am not a good enough human being? Will I be alone forever? Will I never find love again?” LIES. All but the first two questions were lies –I knew that. I recognized it. I’ve done enough work in my life to see when my demons creep in and try to tear me down –down to a place of ruin where there would be no expectation or responsibility for a better life.

I turned to faith and I turned towards my inner strengths. Trauma, emotion, and spirituality are stored and processed in the right brain. The left brain deals with logic and analysis –it tries to understand and quantify. I sat awake at 4 am, trying to understand and make sense of my pain and fears. It wasn’t until 5:30 am that I realized that my self-exploration and attempts to heal would not be optimally affective unless I took a more right brained approach to healing. This was when I opened myself up more fully to the comfort of god and my spirit.

I sat down to resume The Edge of Dreaming, a documentary that I was half way through about a woman who received a message in a dream from her dead husband who told her that she was going to die within a year. She was 48 and in near perfect health when she experienced her prophetic dream –however, after a few months, the woman started to notice that she was having trouble breathing. She went to the doctor and found out that, inexplicably, her lungs were collapsing. She was dying. How could she have predicted that? Both faith and science provided answers: One could say that god had spoken to her in a dream to warn her. More scientific people would say that something physical in her body informed her subconscious that something was wrong that could eventually lead to death. I would argue that both happened. The fact that the faintest of physical awarenesses could somehow translate into a dream -a spiritual warning- is, itself, a miracle from god.

The woman was faced with a dilemma. Was her death inevitable? The doctors did not know –but things did not look good for her. Being a woman who saw and chose to respect the spiritual qualities of herself, the woman decided to seek the help of a shaman to try to re-write her dream and purge the omen that carried the warning of her death. Against her doctor’s suggestion, the woman journey far away from home to meet with a shaman. The shaman, a small and comforting looking woman from India, greeted the dying woman with a notably confident smile. She began her work and entered the dying woman into a trance where she could have access to the imagery of her dream. With the lights dimmed, the shaman lightly beat a drum at a soft and soothing pace -as if the drum were propelling her guided imagery forward. Watching this happen on the screen sparked something in me. I noticed that the shaman’s purging was something that I also needed for myself. Amazingly, the imagery of the woman purging her omen fit eerily with my own situation. I don’t want to spoil the holiness of what my purging experience was like by trying to encapsulate it in words -the whole essence of a spiritual experience is one that occurs in a complex multidimensional way. What I will say is that I felt a huge rush and all of my pain, doubt, struggle, and fear came out in tears. I cried very deeply. I felt comfort and awe. God was with me and he knew what I needed. He let me know that he would always be there to take care of me no matter what. I was relieved and deeply grateful. It would take my greatest strengths to move forward with what I would face next… This was not the end of my purge, but rather, the beginning. (to be continued)

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