Reflections on a Survey

It’s November 6, 2020, and as of 2:54pm we haven’t finished counting all the votes, and we still don’t know who has been elected president of the US.

Today I received a request from a European Unification Church member for a survey I’d worked on 7 years ago, and I’ve been looking through it again after all this time, only too happy to be diverted from the intense political situation going on. The survey asked only 2 questions: What inspires you about the Unification Church Sunday service, and what would you change if you could? These two questions get straight to the heart of the issue, and make it easy to gather people’s thoughts without putting them through a lengthy questionnaire. Three things strike me today as I revisit the results: the importance of small groups, making a contribution, and weathering times of transition. Let me elaborate.

I belong to a small group of women who have been going through the 12 steps of ACA (Adult Children of Alcoholic or Dysfunctional Families) together for the past 2+ years. There were 4 of us to start, now we are three.

Being part of a weekly small group dedicated to spiritual growth has been an important source of support and comfort to me. We are not all at the same stage of growth, or on the same side politically, nor do we all share a common faith. One of us is a Catholic turned Jew, one a Christian, one an agnostic, and I call myself a ‘seeker’ without any religious affiliation. One of us is a Trump supporter, two of us not. We come together week after week and share our experience, strength, and hope with each other without needing to judge or be polarized by our various forms of belief or disbelief. We all agree that life is for learning, as Joni Mitchell once said in a song.

Small groups work. They create intimacy and an opportunity to share safely when the participants all agree they are there to learn, not to proselytize, or to ‘educate.’

Making a contribution was a very important takeaway from the survey work for me. People tend to think the leader is responsible for making changes and seeing to it that everything works. But the responses showed that contribution makes people feel more ownership, connects them together, and multiplies creative energy.

One of my favorite responses summed it up: “There wasn’t much I liked about Sunday service at all. This inspired me to get involved and help develop a music ministry. That has developed into collaboration with the pastor to make the service more embracing, enchanting and inspiring.”  I happened to find myself in Bridgeport, CT a few years later attending the service that person had been a part of, and I saw the result he had talked about. The musical part of the program was alive, involved many different age groups, and touched the entire congregation.

In my case, I’ve been conscious ever since of being more proactive when I want to see change, rather than just adding an ineffective voice of complaint. That one response changed my participation in my own service in Belgium, and has remained as a way of life for me going forward. I joined the board of the co-op where I live when I felt my input would be beneficial to the building, and this year I joined Vote Forward and wrote 100 letters to voters in Texas and Florida encouraging them to get out and vote. Being active in the democratic process has helped me stay calm and focused, and sleep well at night.

We are currently in a time of transition. I am writing now a day later and the election results have come in. Joe Biden is our 46th president. I am celebrating along with many of us for whom these past 4 years have been filled with a sense of loss and disbelief. Grief over a way of life we felt we knew disappearing. However, there are 70 million people who are not celebrating with me, and I know how they feel. I suffered the same loss in 2016. Going forward none of us can fall back into a complacent life. So much has changed. Democracy takes work, and transition times challenge us to rethink and recreate ourselves and our institutions. When enough people lean in together, a tipping point is reached and change becomes inevitable.

I don’t know what our future democracy will look like, but I hope we don’t squander it, and that we learn to honor our differences with more civility and empathy. Learning to talk to each other when we disagree on just about everything is a good place to start. I am encouraged and moved by Dave Chappelle’s reminder to be a ‘humble winner,’ and by his ‘kindness conspiracy’ message on SNL. “It’s random acts of kindness for Black people. Do something nice for a Black person just because they’re Black, and you’ve got to make sure they don’t deserve it… they can’t deserve it, the same way all these years they did terrible things to Black people just because they’re Black and they didn’t deserve it.”

I’m feeling inspired.

Starting up again

It’s 2020. I’m not feeling so enthusiastic about anything, truth be told. You know when it feels like everyone is out to get you? Or however much you fight, you don’t seem to be winning?

I’ve been prone a lot these days…trying to take the weight off, to keep the stress at bay. It helps. I truly love my bed. It’s definitely a safe space and comfort zone. However, one can’t stay there forever. Lying down isn’t a bad strategy, but life does keep calling.

So today I asked myself, what could I be doing to help myself feel better? And as I was driving home I found myself telling the story of my weight loss a few years back, and was reminded of my TeaTalks days. I could do another Tea Talk. I haven’t thought of that in a very long time. I could reach out and share an inspiring story that might help someone going through the same struggle.

I could do another Tea Talk about joining OA, what led up to it, how I keep the weight off after all this time. I love telling that story. It reminds me that I can do things to help myself. And those are the kind of stories I need to hear and tell right now.

So…I’ll be sharing that story with you soon. This is just the introduction to let you and me know that I’m still here, and I’m starting up again!

CHOOSING MY LIFE

It feels good to realize that I’ve been choosing my life for all these years.

In 2000 I chose to follow Rev Moon’s direction to go to Korea. Before that I chose to sign our family up for the National Messiah mission. We got assigned to Portugal. It was there I chose to take a teacher training course which certified me to teach English as a second language. That came in very handy later on. In Portugal we understood the suffering course that Rev Moon always talks about, and we each gained something infinitely beautiful to take with us when we left. Thank you, Portugal!

Before Portugal we chose to go back to my hometown in Tampa Florida, where we bought our very first home and where Emilie got introduced to my family. Thank you, Rev Moon, Tampa, and all the Gatlins.

After 4 years in Portugal I chose to leave and followed Emilie to Korea, where she had decided to go to middle school. Jean followed close behind. In Korea I chose the university I wanted to teach at, and after a very intense interview I got the job, much to my surprise, and loved every day there. I chose to create The Coffee Morning as a way to follow up on WFWP’s investment in bringing women from east and west together. After being elected president, I chose to delegate some of the leadership, which was not an easy thing for me to do and taught me some invaluable lessons. Thank you Peter Drucker for all the management advice, and all the IWK sisters for keeping the dream going.

After renting for a few years, Jean and I chose a lovely apartment in Seoul to buy, and after a short period of panicked buyer’s remorse I fell head over heels in love with it. We chose to make it truly our own by adding a solarium, hidden storage under the floor, and a raised platform for our bed which doubled our storage space. Thanks, Jean, for seeing the potential, and for being so handy, and thank you Korea for the best years of my life.

After 12 years in Asia I followed Jean to his hometown in Belgium, where he took up teaching, and I became a part of the Debacker tribe. After 3 years in Liege I chose to leave Europe and come back to the US where I got to live with my mother and make amends before she died. When she chose to turn her care over to my sister, Dana, I chose to leave Florida and fulfill a longstanding desire to live in New York City. Thanks Dana, for taking over, and thanks Mom, for allowing me to go.

First I chose to attend a film-making course at UTS, where I met Chaplain Kone. After meeting him and feeling the call, I chose the CPE internship I wanted in Manhattan, and from there chose the residency in Bridgeport that opened up. Because I had fallen in love with Seaside Park and the Long Island Sound during my work there, I chose to stay in Bridgeport after wandering around the globe for twenty years, and chose a tiny home to buy. It’s the perfect place for me. Thanks Kone, and thanks Eileen and Janet for helping me find a little refuge by the water.

During chaplain training our supervisor suggested we find and attend a 12 step group. Thanks, Adrian. Two years later I am still going, and last year I chose to create a step group within that. That smaller group is my weekly rock and salve, my healing place. I also chose to look for musicians and start a band. Thanks to Craigslist I found Ian and Matt. In the band I chose to call myself a new name, Moxanne, because it’s my intention to reveal more of the Moxie within.

In Bridgeport I also chose to become a regular volunteer after discovering my favorite radio station, WPKN, broadcasting out of UB. From there I met the DJ who hosts ‘Digging in the Dirt,’ and chose to join a community garden where I get my hands in the dirt and get my daily dose of Vitamin D. I’m alive and creative there and making choices everyday. Those little plants are pulling me right along with them into the future. And everybody there knows me as Moxanne 🙂 Thanks Steve and Bob!

I’m happy that my daughter Emilie and I like each other as we do, and share so much. That’s a dream come true. As I told her yesterday, ‘Before she came into my life, I missed her so bad, I missed her so so bad!’ I chose to have a child, and worked hard to make it happen, and she’s my greatest joy. I’ve chosen to let her live her own life, and to finally realize that I’m not the center of it, and that’s OK. She’s opened up to me in ways I never thought possible and only longed for before. Where I’ve chosen to live is only 2 1/2 hours from her, which means I can see her often, but not so often that she wishes I lived farther away. Thanks, my darling daughter.

I chose to join the Unification Church in 1978. Thirty-five years later I chose to leave it. Looking back the one thing I can’t say I chose was my husband. He was chosen for me by Rev. Moon. And it has been a struggle for both of us all the way through. Not that the other choices didn’t involve struggle or pain. They did. Every one of them has a story of challenge of some kind or other. Jean and I both chose to go through with the blessing, but neither one of us was clear about that choice. There’s something strange about that, because marriage is the most important choice a person can make.

Since making the choice to live on separate continents we have grown closer and more empowered, less co-dependent. We still operate like many other families – discussing major decisions, sharing resources, and showing up for important family events. We talk more, and laugh more often. It’s easier now than it’s ever been to get each other’s attention:  all we have to do is get comfortable and open Messenger Facetime, and Voila! We’re choosing to keep in touch on a very regular basis, which sometimes means 3 or 4 times a week. Friday is our scheduled call, and we rarely miss it. We talk about anything and everything, only interrupting ourselves to get up and pee or go get something to eat. I often think we should record our conversations and make a radio talk show – they’re THAT interesting! Thanks again, Jean.

So, here I am at what could be called a conclusion, but of course we know it isn’t. I certainly didn’t foresee where each choice would lead me. And I look back and feel grateful for all of them, even the mistakes. I suppose that could be the lead-in to a sequel…Life is full of choices, and there are many more to come.

The Trigger

originally posted April 3, 2014 – Revisited for a reason

 

The TRIGGER

Here it is, dear allies: My most frequent trigger is Jean saying nothing kind to me when I’m down or feeling sick (mentally, emotionally, physically, or spiritually). He may have just done the shopping, and driven to pick up Bon Papa, for example, and even helped set the table and prepared the coffee for lunch~All quite time-consuming when he might well have preferred to spend his one day off a week doing something else~ But, still, no emotional connection with me. NONE.

From my side, it’s like preparing the gown and the veil and the room and the banquet for the bride, but then not bothering to look at her when she arrives, and showing no interest in anything but the externals, and whether all was set up correctly. Is anybody with me here, or am I really off?

The CHANGE

Today’s been a hard day. I’m not feeling well (mentally, emotionally, physically, or spiritually). So, I lay on the floor and stretched, and used the Happy Health machine, and called my sister (after trying to reach you, Dana) AND I told myself a NEW STORY:

If I get angry at him, it won’t work to bring him any closer, or get any more of what I want (a look of concern, gentle words, time together, etc). He is NOT one of my empathic supporters. He is good for other things (like driving, shopping, cleaning up, etc.) I’d be foolish to expect empathy from him, when I know that’s not his strong suit. The Best Plan of Action? Love what he gives, and be grateful for it, and find another place to get the emotional fulfillment. Practicing love and acceptance and gratitude for what he does do makes me feel SUPERBETTER about myself, and more like the good, whole, friendly person that I am and want to be.

Important ANNOUNCEMENT: I just changed/caught/stopped an old frozen thought pattern and let go of my usual negative emotions (angry at Jean, self-pity) and those unrealistic expectations that Denise and I talked so well about yesterday.

If I can do it once, I can do it again. Practice makes perfect sense to me. What do YOU think?

Happiness is

LIFE CHANGES, Part 2

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Susie and her wonderful daughter, Karina

I’m crying at the moment – listening to moving music, and letting the tears fall. I realize that tears are often an important part of life changes. They don’t need to be dried or hid from view, as there is nothing to fix. Allowing them to flow is part of the process. I’m here again after all this time, with another story about another change.

My sister Susie died 16 days ago. She was 68 – one day less than a year older than me. That makes us both Aries, although I never felt her fire the way I feel my own. She was so much more placid and serene in her approach to life, but she could be stubborn, and I think that’s what I loved most about her.

What I’ve been missing most since Saturday, December 15th, 2018, is the opportunity to call her like I always do. I’m walking down to the seaside, and I’m carrying my phone. It’s such a beautiful day – let me call Susie! I’m driving up to MA to visit Em, and I’ve got 2 hours – good time to talk to Susie! I’m sitting on my couch wondering why I feel so lost – I can call Susie! I know she’ll be there, I don’t need to ask permission to call, and she’ll be glad to hear my voice, and happy to listen to whatever I want to say. There aren’t too many people I feel confident to say that about. And I can’t call her now.  The shock makes me realize that she’s really gone.

I pulled out my phone remembering suddenly that I had saved some of her voicemails. And there she was, laughing and blowing me kisses and calling me ‘Sweetheart!’ and telling me, ‘I love you so much!’ When I listen to it again, she’s alive and strong and I feel so relieved. That voice. Preserved in time. Like a living presence.

Susie, I didn’t feel any sorrow when Karina called to tell me. Just relief. Good timing, Sue. You didn’t waste any time lying around being an uncommunicative burden. It was hard to see you unable to talk that last time on Facetime. It was even harder to know what to say. I felt so awkward. I saw your face, and I knew you knew there was no turning back. You were hanging your head, and I could only imagine what you were thinking.  I felt foolish chatting about this and that, as if we all didn’t know death was just around the corner. We just didn’t realize how close. I wonder if you did?

Grieving takes different forms for different people, and is a process just like everything else. When I realized I couldn’t talk to you anymore, I felt a sort of panic replace the rationalizations I had been thinking and telling everyone about your death – that it was the best thing blah blah. Suddenly I felt something, somewhere in the heart region. LOSS. Looking at this picture taken only a few days before your last breath, I suddenly saw you looking back at me, and realized you were smiling on the one side of your face that still could. My big sister was still giving her strength and kindness to me. This is my favorite picture now, and looking at it makes me happy, although I’m sad. I’m crying tears of joy, and tears of sadness. Isn’t that just like life. I miss and love you, my sister, Susie! What a gift to have had you in my life. And to still be able to hold you in my heart. I’m sorry you had to go so soon.

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Smiling for the camera

 

 

 

The Places That Scare You, by Pema Chodron – Part 1

I’ve often turned to spiritual teachers during difficult times in my life, and most often I’ve found them in a book passed into my hands by a friend. One such book was given to me by a friend of my mother’s who dropped by one evening three years ago. She said as she was leaving, “Oh, by the way, I think you’ll like this.”

The book was When Things Fall Apart, Heart Advice for Difficult Times, by Pema Chodron, an American Buddhist nun. I had never heard of her, but the book became a constant companion that I referred to almost every day to guide me through the ups and downs of coming back to live with my mother and sister.

I bought and read a second book by Pema, The Places that Scare You, A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times, which I’ve just picked up again and begun to re-read now, as I face another challenging time in my life. This is the page I want to share with you today. It’s from the chapter about the ‘in-between state.’

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“We are told about the pain of chasing after pleasure and the futility of running from pain. We hear also about the joy of awakening, of realizing our interconnectedness, of trusting the openness of our hearts and minds. But we aren’t told all that much about this state of being in-between, no longer able to get our old comfort from the outside but not yet dwelling in a continual sense of equanimity and warmth. 

Anxiety, heartbreak, and tenderness mark the in-between state. It’s the kind of place we usually want to avoid. The challenge is to stay in the middle rather than buy into struggle and complaint. The challenge is to let it soften us rather than make us more rigid and afraid. Becoming intimate with the queasy feeling of being in the middle of nowhere only makes our hearts more tender. When we are brave enough to stay in the middle, compassion arises spontaneously. By not knowing, not hoping to know, and not acting like we know what’s happening, we begin to access our inner strength. 

Yet it seems reasonable to want some kind of relief. If we can make the situation right or wrong, if we can pin it down in any way, then we are on familiar ground. But something has shaken up our habitual patterns and frequently they no longer work. Staying with volatile energy gradually becomes more comfortable than acting it out or repressing it. This open-ended tender place is called bodhichitta. Staying with it is what heals. It allows us to let go of our self-importance. It’s how the warrior learns to love. 

This is exactly how we’re training every time we sit in meditation. We see what comes up, acknowledge that with kindness, and let go. Thoughts and emotions rise and fall. Some are more convincing than others. Habitually we are so uncomfortable with that churned-up feeling that we’d do anything to make it go away. Instead we kindly encourage ourselves to stay with our agitated energy by returning to our breath. This is the basic training in maitri that we need to just keep going forward, to just keep opening our heart.” (p 120-121)

This has been the focus of my recent practice: finding the in-between state commonly referred to as ‘the middle way.’ I’ve been anxious and finding myself more frequently at either extreme – aggressively fighting uncomfortable challenges, or running away from them altogether (denial). I learned the old fight or flight thing by watching my parents. Dad was into taking the fight into the arena, Big Time. He burned some bridges in the process, and a lot of calories on our bare bottoms. Mom spent her time avoiding conflict, and pretending that everything was just hunky-dory, even when we all knew it wasn’t. ‘Why can’t we all just get along?’ was her frequent rhetorical question. Nobody ever answered. No one knew how.

I’m an excellent learner, and have both dad’s and mom’s method down perfectly, but I find myself not happy about either. There must be a better way. So I’ve turned to spiritual teachers and people who seem to have a spirit of equanimity and joy as my guides.  How do they do that? I want to be like them!

My most recent guide, other than Pema, is the lead character in the movie, Legally Blonde. Surprised? Spiritual teacher?? Elle is friendly, honest, AND firm. She knows what she wants, and goes out to get it without stepping on other people or pushing them out of the way. She keeps her heart open even when she is judged unfairly and treated despicably. And she makes friends with the impossibly cold-hearted just by being an example of goodness. I call that a pretty good model to follow.

Role models help me. They provide the words and actions to help me out of my box of fixated responses. They give me a new script, a new way of seeing and behaving, that is far more effective. I’m not blonde, but I AM beautiful, and I can be kind AND firm, with practice.

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