31 August 2009

A Plan Comes Together

In the movie, "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," the character, played by Richard Dreyfus, has an intense experience while stopped on a road one evening. From that moment onward, he becomes more and more obsessed with trying to create the image that looms greater in his mind. At one point, using mud, rocks, sticks and various other materials, he constructs a large scale model of the image that now has become an obsession...a mountain with surrounding terrain. Then, the obsession became a mad search for the real place.

We may think such things are from the realm of fantasy, but such could not be farther from the truth. St. Augustine of Hippo (fifth century) reflected, "Our souls are restless until they find their rest in you, O Lord." There is not a person who has not had something like a gnawing feeling deep inside that begins something like a quest. Because of the many layers of conditioning and expectations, these quests may lead to dead-ends, or, like Don Quixote, a chase for windmills. What we actually search for is inside...which can often have some sort of anchor externally.

Such happened to me recently. In the early spring of 2008, our home basement (which is finished & furnished) was damaged, when the sump pump malfunctioned. It required the carpet to be removed, the basement dried out thoroughly and furniture restored. The first order of business -- after damage control -- was to replace the sump pump. We did so with a "state of the art" system that has two fail-safe backups. Being an old Navy guy, water-tight integrity is almost an obsession with me.

After the baseboards were removed and the damaged portions of drywall repaired, Denise and I repainted the entire basement living area. We left the project for about nine months. My sabbatical leave arrived, and I was engaged in a special project for three months. Fall came, and the parish program (and Denise's work) took center stage. Finally, this past spring, we settled on the kind of carpet we wanted, and the basement got finished and back to normal.

But, something had been planted deep within me during my sabbatical. The east wall of the basement runs for about 10 feet from the north wall and then juts back about 3 feet before continuing to the south corner. The small corner created, where the wall juts back became a place of obsession for me. At first, I had no idea why. As the carpet guy was working (and I helping with stretching it) I kept staring at that corner -- to the point that the carpet guy once asked if there was something wrong with his work in that area. Nope, the space just spoke to me.

While on sabbatical, I had learned the importance of sacred space and holy ground. This is not new to me, but actually spending a great deal of time in such spaces that summer stirred my soul in ways that started to grow. An image was emerging, and I had no idea what it meant. Now, as I stared at that corner where the east wall jutted back three feet, the image and the space began to speak to each other. Nothing concrete was coming forth, and it began to drive me crazy! Until...one day, just before I left for General Convention, I was praying in the St. Andrew's Chapel (a place I go often during work days to gather thoughts and offer prayer for my parishioners). Eureka!!! I got an image! The basement space was supposed to become a contemplative prayer space. Okay, fine. Contemplative prayer is a big part of my discipline. It is how an introvert priest feeds the soul and mind. I had always wanted something I could call a uniquely holy spot.

This summer, while at General Convention and on vacation the two weeks following the convention, bits and pieces of what this space was to look like began to take serious shape. When Denise and I returned from California, I had one week of vacation time left and several yard and house projects to complete. I gave myself a deadline: I would spend enough time on the prayer space project to complete it by the final Friday of my vacation. No excuses. Thus began the "Richard Dreyfus Obsession."

I spent hours looking through Home Depot, Ace Hardware, Lowes and other such places for just what I thought I needed. Plans? I didn't need no stinkin' plans! The vision was internal, and when I saw what would work, it literally lept out at me. What I started with as a potential vision took some interesting turns (and I drove a Home Depot guy crazy running about the store with him tagging along trying to answer questions and keep up with my rapid changes of mind and opinion). Then it happened. I had all the tools in one place.

A three-tiered fountain in the corner, sitting in a larger round rubber container, which itself was filled with small, smooth river stones. Various kinds of vine and bamboo grass (necessarily artificial due to the darkness of the specific area) created a natural feel. Four three-foot pieces of 1"x8" red oak, which I stained and coated with polyurethane. These created two small tables built with one board on the carpet and two columns of four antique red bricks with the second board on the top. The one table on the three-foot section of wall supported a small, glass shade lamp that could be activated by touch (3 way with a 60 watt bulb). the identical small table on the east wall had a candle, incense burner and a couple of tokens that are precious to me. Above that table on the east wall are two icons...one of the Holy Trinity (by Rublev) and the other depicting Holy Wisdom by a fourth century Byzantine monk. Back from all this, facing east, sits a foldable back-jack chair (sits directly on the ground with support for the back). I'm done!

That final Friday afternoon of my vacation...at 4:00pm, I sat in the back-jack chair, legs folded, candle lighted and prayed a blessing for this space. It was complete. The image and the space had finally come together in a reality, which is the extension of my soul's need for holy ground in which to find Peace and Presence in a busy world.

It is to this place I go to begin my days. I have a Bible and Book of Common Prayer for the Daily Office. I have a journal to jot what may come from my time of prayer. I have the icons and symbols of other holy spaces that are dear to me...which connect me to space and time...a sacramental context. The soft sound of the water cascading from one basin to the other in the fountain creates a sensory distraction and calms the mind. I love this space deeply. It is home inside my home. It is holy ground.

27 August 2009

Integrated Circuits

I like the sound of this title. My first thought, when "integrated circuits" popped into my head, was of my time working in the Navy Submarine Corps (1973-75). Few systems are more complicated than a modern ballistic missle submarine; yet, even in the mid-1970s, technology supported a tightly integreted series of systems that could interact, produce "fail-safes," activate auxiliary components and provide immediate information to a variety of stations. This meant that, to be submarine qualified, every person on a boat had to know how to function in all areas.

We tend to think of the human body as a collection of systems. Classic anatomy used to teach based upon separate investigations of digestive, endocrinal, neurological, orthopaedic, etc. systems. While there are specialists in each of the "systems," We have long known that the whole human body is hardwired with a complex interdependency. But, that's not all.

The mind and body have other layers of reality besides those known as anatomical. There is the division of conscious and unconscious. Conscious data relies upon sensory data which creates unconscious memories and patterns for future recognition. The unconscious not only processes memories, it houses the components that create the unique characteristics that we know as uniquely human and define "self." Carl Jung subdivided the components of self into archetypes and subtypes that interact in a complex manner to manifest what others see through our actions, ideas, emotions and characterizations. It is all way too much for a blog, but one can see where I might be going.

Carl Jung, Thomas Moore, Morton Kelsey,Robert Bly and others (psychologists, theologians, and those whom we call "internal sojourners) speak of the Presenting Self and the Shadow Self. The novel, "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" is a dramatization of these two components. The Presenting Self is what the world gets to see...or what we want the world to see. The Shadow Self is one we tend to keep hidden -- even from ourselves most of the time. Our close friends, family members and bathroom mirror may be subjected to this component. Otherwise we lock it down -- in the shadows.

Here is the problem. If these two components remain separated, all hell can break loose...literally. In a moment of distraction, someone may say or do something that will ignite the Shadow Self, and elements of it will spring forth before we can suppress it. Painful memories can be triggered in ways to unleash Shadow material. The emotions of rage, anger, fear, intense anxiety, saddness and feeling overwhelmed are examples of the release of Shadow material into conscious reality. I don't mean the "slow boil" stuff. I'm speaking about the sudden, intense and sometimes crippling kinds of emotions. Psychologists and theologians alike teach that a truly healthy, whole person is one who has integrated these components. Jesus taught that gaining the whole world at the cost of the True Self (in Greek) defines hell. One loses integrity -- which is integration.

One might rightly ask what the process of integration entails. Many myths and stories explore the process. Any story that includes a quest for a treasure is a story of the process of integration. The quest for the Holy Grail in Arthurian legend is the hero's quest for wholeness and integration. In Christianity, being Christ-like is achieving the integration of Self to reflect the wholeness God created us to be (Original Sin is the fracturing of Self -- good/evil, light/shadow).

Recently, I went to a workshop in which I was given the rare opportunity to be guided deep within myself by very skilled practitioners. After preparation with tools of meditation and guided imagery, the mentors in this very safe place guided me inward. I have almost no memory of what took place. Those who were observers and guides told me what happened. It was somewhat frightening to hear and try to comprehend. The rational mind can't be part of the functions of Presenting Self and Shadow Self, when they engage in struggle with each other. It's messy, ugly and dark. The conscious mind introduces a kind of neurological anesthesia that blocks conscious manipulation and memory. A highly skilled clinical person is very nearby. At the end, as I came to myself, I was out of breath, sweating profusely yet feeling almost lighter than air. I was gently encouraged and tenderly treated as I gained sensory balance and attunement.

I later described this to another psychotherapist/theologian, whom I thought would be horrified by what I had experienced. Instead, he calmly reflected, "a classic....intense, but classic....battle with your Shadow. Now I know why you appear as you do, you've achieved a level of integration. You've started a new journey. Congratulations!"

For one to claim total integration is nothing less than hubris (false pride...a deep sin in Christian theology). It is, indeed, a journey. I started one in a new and big way on this recent weekend. The circuitry is being meshed. It is a slow but real process. How do I know it's happening? I feel far less anxious about stuff that normally keeps me awake at night. I'm less afraid to speak my truth aloud and take a principled stand. I seem able to speak up and out more readily (read: less intimidated). My routine of contemplative prayer is more intense and fruitful. There are little things each day that I simply find amusing for funny...things I used to take rather seriously. I love better.

Jesus said, "where your treasure is, there also is your heart." Myths tell us that 'where there is treasure, there be dragons.' Yep. Engage the dragons with a loving heart, and you have the treasure. The True Self. The One God created, or, as a friend of mine calls it, "the God cell."