Read an Excerpt
The Woman's Book of Spirit
Meditations for The Thirsty Soul
By Sue Patton Thoele
Red Wheel/Weiser, LLCCopyright © 1997 Sue Patton Thoele
All rights reserved.
Re-Greening Arid Places
It's essential that we understand that taking care of the planet will be done as we take care of ourselves. You know that you can't really make much of a difference in things until you change yourself.
The great eleventh-century Christian mystic, scholar, and physician, Hildegaard of Bingen, defined sin as spiritual dry-rot, aridity, and refusal to grow. She believed that the opposite of sin was to be gloriously and outrageously alive—green and moist, like nature. Water, a common metaphor for both spirit and femininity, is our most obvious greening agent. In order to grow into the beautiful women we were created to be, we must pour the waters of spirit upon our arid places.
All of us have draught-ridden areas within us that need watering and reclamation. The wonderful news is that even a desert wasteland can be turned into a lush oasis when irrigated with enough water and planted with the right seeds. The same is true of us. No matter how dry or barren some aspects of ourselves or our lives may feel, they can be reclaimed when sanctified by the powerful feminine waters of compassion, forgiveness, right thought, acceptance, and gentle guidance.
Paying Attention to Your Soul's Garden
Plants are wonderful spiritual teachers. When we pay attention to their simple needs, they respond by growing and bringing beauty and lifegiving oxygen into our presence. Plants silently make us aware of their needs by wilting, yellowing, or failing to thrive. Equally silent, but often less obvious, our soul-needs can go unnoticed for long periods of time. If the needs of our spiritual self are ignored too long, drought conditions occur, leaving us feeling dried up and lifeless.
Luckily, both flowers and spirits are very resilient and respond beautifully to a little nurturance. Recently, I was all wrapped up in my work and totally forgot that my potted geraniums and impatiens were sweltering in a heat wave. By the time I noticed them, the impatiens were already crispy. Plying them with fervent apologies and much needed water, I urged them to revive. Miraculously, they did. Given a little attention and tender loving care, our spirits are just as forgiving and equally as anxious to re-green and bloom as were my flowers.
What does your soul garden look like? Are the plants and flowers green and happy? If not, what will quench their thirst? What attention do they crave? What tiny little step can you take right now? What miniature bloom can you attend to soon?
When you listen attentively, you'll know how best to serve your soul's needs. It's very important, however, that we don't try to do too much at once or we set ourselves up for failure and become discouraged. When we consistently sow one small seed, water a single vase, till a square inch of soil, the entire garden reaps the benefit. Taking little soul-seconds—one small prayer, a few-minute meditation, a short burst of gratitude while appreciating nature—helps immeasurably to revive our thirsty spirits.
We don't have to join a convent or live in a cave to attend to our souls, although I admit that it sounds appealing sometimes. Luckily, our souls flower and grow when nurtured with consistent rays of attention interspersed among the busy hours of our days.
I pay attention to the needs of my spirit. I make time to quench my soul's thirst.
Loving Self to Life
As women, we're often trained to love others a lot, and ourselves a little. Unfortunately this is a backward concept because we're better able to love others when we first love ourselves. I know this idea has been harped on, but that's because it is absolutely true and truth deserves a little harp serenade. Just because the idea of selflove is widely accepted doesn't mean it's easy to do. But no matter how hard it may be for us to practice, it is essential, because lack of self-love and acceptance is the basis for most emotional problems, including the feelings of lifelessness and depression that plague so many women.
Fundamentally, loving ourselves is the best way to re-green our lives into the luxurious and creative lushness that we deserve. Unfortunately, there is no quick-fix, easy answer as to how to do this. Some of us were lucky enough to be taught to love ourselves when we were kids, but, for the rest of us, commitment to loving ourselves and a hundred daily decisions to "take ourselves to heart" are the only ways I've found that work. And they are by no means instantaneous. That's why I firmly believe that becoming consistently and compassionately self-loving is one of our lifelong spiritual tasks.
It seems easiest for most women to begin the self-loving process by loving their younger selves first. Picturing the little girls we were at about three years old and then showering them with the love that they needed and deserved is a great place to start. If you can't bring yourself to love this little one, call in a marvelously maternal and loving being to cherish and cuddle her for you. When I feel especially needy, I hug a large teddy bear and pretend that it's the "little Susie" inside me who feels unloved or unlovable.
Since love is the only energy that brings lasting change, our sacred charge is to love ourselves to life.
I am loveable. Each day it becomes easier for me to love myself.
Keeping Anger Moist and Movable
Anger is an out -of-heart experience. That doesn't mean that it's a terrible nono and that we shouldn't feel it or express it.
In fact, examined anger is often an incredible teacher. Exploring our experience of anger nonjudgmentally often helps us uncover valuable clues as to what we expect, what we want, what we fear, and where we feel especially vulnerable. Indeed, examined anger is a spiritual ally. Examined anger remains moist and movable, supple and malleable to our inquiring minds. From it, we can learn to stop accepting the unacceptable in terms of treatment directed toward us.
However, unexamined and consequently suppressed or repressed anger is a different story. Very often it solidifies into resentment which shuts down our hearts and leeches all joy from our lives. In effect, resentment holds a gun to our heart and says, "Beware! You better dry up, and protect yourself. Opening up is dangerous." Resentment almost always guarantees aridity.
I don't know about you, but I was vigorously trained in anger-aversion and was an apt student. One of my primary life lessons continues to be transforming my self-loathing and self-judgment whenever I feel anger, and learning to use it constructively.
One great way I've found to keep anger moist and movable is to take it less seriously. Anger is great fodder for humor, and when expressed as such, we're often able to lighten up and laugh. For example, after an incredibly unfair divorce settlement, a friend of ours had Gene and I doubled over with laughter as he expounded dramatically about the book he was going to write: How to Hold onto Your Anger when It's All You've Got Left! Through humor, he was healthfully expressing just how upset he was at the injustice of his divorce. His intention was to learn from and move through his anger, but for now, it was giving him the energy he needed to walk this piece of the road.
Give yourself permission to explore and express your anger lightly and from the heart. As the saying goes, "What does it matter if a teaspoon of vinegar is spilled on a hill of sugar?"
I take my anger lightly. I examine my anger and learn from it.
A woman I admire once complimented me by saying, "Nowhere in your books did I find a shred of judgment." Luckily, my books are edited, but unfortunately my life is not. Judgment is an ongoing issue for me and for most of my clients.
Judgment arises when our expectations are not met, but often our expectations are idealized and unattainable and, therefore, impossible to meet. When I have gone deeply into examining my tendency to judge, I've found at the root, a set of impossible standards that I hold myself to, which inhibit my ability to love myself and others. Selfjudgment gives rise to judgment of others—and both suck the love-enhancing moisture right out of our hearts and create draught conditions in our relationships.
Jamie was going through a very rough period in her marriage and was judging herself harshly for not being able to remain a calm and totally loving parent at all times. From my point of view, she was doing a great job under difficult circumstances. Her husband was in the military and virtually never home, her own emotions were in an uproar, and her sense of security in their future together was teetering precariously. Then, one day, a friend commented to her, "To love perfection is to hate life," which affected Jamie deeply. This profound little sentence helped her understand, at a gut level, what a burden she was placing on herself by expecting perfection in a far from perfect situation.
Although it was not easy for her, Jamie sought therapy and began learning the skills for de-idealizing her expectations and concentrating on self-acceptance rather than self-judgment. Over time the results of her work led to a greater tolerance of her imperfections, an increased ability to flow with life, more relaxed kids, and a revitalized marriage.
As human beings, we are evolving, maturing, and changing continually. It is unrealistic and discouraging to expect perfection from ourselves or others. Letting go of unrealistic ideals frees us to love more and, ironically enough, allows us to be better people.
I love life, imperfections and all. I love myself, imperfections and all.
One of the most effective ways to bleed our spirit-energy away is to impale ourselves on the twin swords of blame and nonforgiveness. Therefore, the ability to forgive ourselves is essential to our soul's growth. Forgiveness originally meant "to return good treatment for ill usage," which reminds me of a beautiful saying: "Forgiveness is the fragrance the violet sheds on the hand that has crushed it."
We are all susceptible to human failings. We've all pointed the finger of blame at ourselves and others and trotted out an inner perfectionist to bludgeon ourselves with guilt and shame. We have crushed the delicate violet of another's feelings and trampled our own under the heels of unrealistic demands. But as the imminently true cliche states, "To err is human, to forgive, divine." As we forgive, the divine fragrance of the Beloved flows through us, bestowing blessings.
Our souls are no strangers to forgiveness, for they have basked in the benediction of God's forgiveness for eternity. Difficulty in forgiving means that we have slipped from the heart of God into our human heads or guts and are no longer centered in the ground of our being, which is unconditional love.
By becoming aware of the skid away from our higher self, we can move back into our hearts. Even though it may sound too good to be true, we can return to our heart by merely asking to do so and accepting that it is done. Remembering to pour the fragrance of God's love and acceptance upon ourselves will set the stage for our ability to forgive the hands that occasionally crush us.
Forgiving ourselves allows us to create a garden of violets that will perfume our own and other's lives with the fragrance of love.
I am willing to forgive myself. I forgive myself.
Forgiveness is not optional if you wish to walk a spiritual path. Practicing the art of forgiveness is essential for keeping our spirits green and gloriously alive. Not being able or willing to forgive those who have hurt us blocks God's love from entering our hearts and dams the flow of love going from us toward others.
Not forgiving binds us to our tormentor and to the original injury, keeping it fresh and current even if it is actually old and stale. Definitely a losing proposition! In reality, we don't forgive someone because it is good for the other person; we forgive in order to free our own hearts and souls and return ourselves to a state of love.
Tiffany was finding it very difficult to forgive her mother who drank herself to death when Tiffany was a teenager. The years preceding her mother's death were filled with neglect and embarrassment that had left deep scars. Grieving the fact that she had never really had a mother and venting her anger about her loss was important in Tiffany's healing. But eventually she realized that she didn't want to carry the ghost of her mother on her back for the rest of her life, and so she made a commitment to forgiving her.
Tiffany found it very helpful to picture her mother and then imagine that she could look through the drinker's facade and see the wounded, scared, and ignorant part of her mother who needed to disrupt everyone's lives. It was much easier to forgive the little girl inside her mother, who had also had a difficult childhood, than it was to forgive the woman who had made Tiffany's miserable.
In any forgiveness practice, it's important to remember that we can't see the whole spiritual picture. We don't know precisely what lessons our souls have signed up for in their evolutionary process. What we do know is that being able to forgive ourselves and others opens our hearts to the flow of divine energy.
I am willing to forgive _____. I forgive _____.
Exploring the Family Tree
If we have arid places in us from our experience with our parents, a great way to re-green them is to learn to understand, honor, and know our parents as human beings, not roles. If they are alive, we can talk to them about their childhoods and, by listening to their reminiscences, get a better feel for why and how they became the people they are. If our parents have died, we can talk to other family members and friends about them and explore letters and papers left behind.
Out of a deep desire to know who her father really was, Carrie created a four-page questionnaire and sent it to him. It had easy questions like, "What is your favorite color?" and "What were your parents like?" and tough ones such as, "How did you want me to think or feel about my sexuality?" and "Do you think about your own death, and are you afraid?" Although it took him a while to respond, to his credit, this quiet man attempted to answer most of his daughter's questions.
Carrie told me that his answers gave her a feeling of comfort and calm, an increased sense of why she is who she is, and a richer picture of her background. She better understands the influences that shaped both herself and her father, and she feels closer to him as a result.
In knowing our parents, we can more fully know ourselves. Ask yourself how you might be able to know your parents more authentically and decide what actions you want to take that are appropriate to your circumstances. Doing so may feel like a risk, but, who knows—within their histories, you may find an oasis for yourself.
Our personalities yearn to know and understand our souls. And when either is revealed, the other becomes more transparent, more readily available.
I love to learn about my background. I love and honor myself and my parents.
Trailing Clouds of Glory
Gene and I recently became grandparents for the first time, and I am learning that nothing re-greens the heart and mind quite like being in the presence of an innocent infant. William Wordsworth was certainly right in his poem Ode on Immortality when he said, "But trailing clouds of glory do we come from God, who is our home: Heaven lies about us in our infancy!"
I've always gone to pet stores or stopped people on the street with infants, puppies, or kittens to get my baby-fixes, but the other day I stepped back just a little to view other family members reacting to my little grandbaby's first smiles. We had all turned into "people-puddles," melting in the warmth of the absolutely pure energy he embodies and showers on us. It's a two-way street—he opens our hearts with the aura of Heaven he trails, and we enfold him in love and security.
Not only can we make sure that we get a babyfix every now and then, but we can re-green arid places within us by giving to and gleaning from our own inner little ones.
Pam's mother died only a few days after she was born and Pam was cared for by a well-meaning but unprepared aunt who, not unnaturally, was a bit resentful at the unexpected turn of events in her life. As an adult, Pam avoided intimate relationships, rationalizing that she was too busy with her career. In truth, being a motherless daughter had left her carrying the unconscious belief that she was unlovable.
Finally, chronic depression made her seek therapy, where she discovered she needed to become the mother to herself that she'd never had. Through guided meditation, journaling, and a dogged determination to feel better, Pam began to love her inner infant and ultimately came to twin realizations: that she was not responsible for her mother's death and that she was infinitely lovable.
Excerpted from The Woman's Book of Spirit by Sue Patton Thoele. Copyright © 1997 Sue Patton Thoele. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
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