Writing in liminal time

This post is a bit different. It’s about writing. After all, my blog is sub-titled Reflections on Writing, Life and the Spirit, but, truth be told, I haven’t focused on the “writing” part that much.

If you’re a writer, you might resonate to this post. Even if you’re not a writer, please read on. You may find something that speaks to you about your life — and about that “in between” time where we often reside.

I wrote this for another blog about four years ago. In hindsight, I feel that I may always be living and writing in that space of “uncertainty.” But perhaps that indeed is a gift.

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I have been living in liminal time. What is that, you ask, and how does that relate to writing?

Liminal time is that twilight space in our lives when we’ve separated from one situation, but haven’t quite arrived at the next.

The term that’s been used is “no longer and not yet.” We are “no longer” where we were, but we’re “not yet” at transformation.

liminal timeWe know what no longer works, but the new is not yet clear. We may, in fact, be on the threshold of that breakthrough, but still wandering in the desert – a time of uncertainty and discomfort.

I’ve been experiencing that in my life the last year, having left a full-time job and now writing my novels. The ground feels shaky under my feet and I’m really not sure what’s next — with anything.

It’s an anxiety-making time but also an exciting one, as Dr. Joan Borysenko, author of the best-seller Minding the Body, Mending the Mind, recently shared in a webinar.

She applied the idea of liminal time to spiritual growth. But I see that process present in writers as well. We have left behind the safety and security of not writing at all to venture forth.

We are “no longer” simply saying we’re going to write our novel, we’re writing it. “No longer” in the first or second or third drafts, but in the thick of it. We’ve committed to finishing our manuscript, to telling our story. We can’t go back.

But what’s next? We don’t know. That’s where the discomfort sets in. For writers, we may feel lost in a wasteland of questions, trying to find that next step. After hours and hours of hard work, there are no guarantees. Will we find an agent, a publisher? Will people buy our book, read it? Will our book find transformation? Will we?

Borysenko advises us to be patient during this “no longer” and “not yet” stage. The urge is often to make a premature closure. For writers, that might be giving up too quickly (as I’ve done many times) and not continue to pitch the book after the 25th or 100th rejection. Not finishing the novel. Or hurrying it off to an agent before it’s polished and in the best shape possible.

transformationAs unsettling as it may feel, it’s OK to be in the unknown, Borysenko reassures. Why? For writers, we can see it as a fertile space where we can learn to be resilient. We can approach our writing and the business of publication with mindful curiosity.

Liminal time allows us to be open, spacious and flexible, if we allow it, helping our creativity and our writing.

Most of all, during this time of “no longer and not yet,” Borysenko says, we need to be patient. And we need social support. Writing groups are one way we can stay the course and not feel so lost. So, too, is a sense of humor and the absurd to keep us flexible. Writing-related cartoons on Facebook often help me through many mornings when I want to give up and don’t want to write another word.

The reality is that liminal time can be daunting for most of us. The Israelites understood, wandering in the desert thinking they’d never reach the promised land. Their space of “no longer and not yet” lasted for 40 years! I’m hoping that our collective promised land of publication doesn’t take quite that long.

Ultimately, if we have faith — in ourselves and in the writing journey itself — then the next step will be made clear. And we will indeed get there. Transformed. Published.

(This post first appeared on August 8, 2012, on “Birth of  a Novel.” I had the privilege of being part of this blog with some amazing women writers. Sandra Carey Cody, author of The Jennie Connors Mystery Series, now administers the blog and I know she’d love if you’d visit: https://birthofanovel.wordpress.com.

And while I was in that “liminal time” four years ago, I did finish my novel. You can find Loreen on the Lam: A Tennessee Mystery at http://www.ipulpfiction.com/indexLOREEN.html)

 

The power of forgiveness

It’s never easy to forgive. In fact, it’s probably one of the hardest things we’ll ever do. And yet, all spiritual traditions call us to do exactly that. Maya Angelou said: “It’s one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself, to forgive. Forgive everybody.” Here are a few thoughts and a story about forgiveness.

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Perhaps one of the most difficult and profound lessons we learn as humans is forgiveness. When we forgive, we indeed become like God. We free ourselves and the other person. Why then, with so many beautiful benefits from this act, do we find it so difficult?

Many reasons. Forgiving another means letting go, falling into the unknown and how many of us like to do that? With our resentments clutched tightly to us, we feel safe. Our bitterness gives us a false sense of control and power and also of self-righteousness. After all, we have been wronged and we feel we deserve to be vengeful.

It boils down to us feeling very right about being very wronged. So we hold onto our “rightness” even though it is like barbed wire cutting our soul and holding us prisoner.

barbed wireHere is a brief story I have shared before, but it applies here, too. Many years ago, when I was a therapist at an outpatient counseling center for my graduate internship, I remember a woman who could not forgive her daughter. Even more sad, she could not forgive herself. Her daughter had had a son out-of-wedlock and had been into heavy drug use and mixing with a bad crowd.

The woman’s daughter was raising her child in an unhealthy environment so this woman and her husband, both in their 60s, took their grandson when he was about 8 years old so they might raise him. But one day, with the child under their care, he rode his bike out into the street, was struck by a van and killed.

To be present to this woman’s grief — and hatred — was palpable. She told me she could never forgive her daughter for how she had raised the boy. Worse yet, she could never forgive herself for her grandson’s death. She replayed the scene over and over again in therapy — how she should have been more vigilant, how she should never have let her grandson out into the street by himself.

Her resentment and unforgiveness then extended beyond herself to God. How could he allow such a thing to happen, especially to a small boy?

I had no answers. I could only be with this woman in her grief and hatred, journey with her through the pain and muck of sorrow, and hope she could come to some peace for herself, her life and her family. But ultimately, the choice to forgive was hers alone.

After feeling what she needed to feel — crucial to the healing process — only she could come to see how her unforgiveness was not only binding her, but her daughter as well. It was blocking vital energy she needed for her own life and her own well-being.

Does an act of forgiveness mean condoning evil acts? Hardly. There will always be evil in the world. There will always be injustices and wrongs committed. We can never justify any thought, word or deed that harms another. But forgiving the perpetrator is an entirely different matter than sanctioning the act.

It is the classic story in the New Testament of the woman caught in adultery and brought before Jesus. The crowd wants to stone her as per the Jewish law. The condemners expect Jesus to enact vengeance on this woman. Instead, Jesus quietly begins to write in the dirt. We aren’t told what he writes, but eventually he stands and utters his famous words, “Let those among you without sin cast the first stone.”

forgiveWe, too, need to put down the stones in our hearts and hands. When we heal through forgiveness, others are also healed. We can remember that we are all on this journey on the earth together and at some point, each of us has missed the mark in some way.

One of my favorite authors, Sue Monk Kidd, who I quote often, has this to say about forgiveness:

“I learned a long time ago that some people would rather die than forgive. It’s a strange truth, but forgiveness is a painful and difficult process. It’s not something that happens overnight. It’s an evolution of the heart.”

May we be open to allow our hearts to evolve — toward love and forgiveness. Yes, they are the harder curriculum of life. But the gifts are boundless. To others. To ourselves. Let’s begin now.

The Nellie nobody knows

This year has not started out in stellar fashion. My laptop went kaput. Cha-ching. My car needed front brakes. Cha-ching. And I have a health issue that I’m hoping is not serious and fixable.

Given all this, I had a word with the Divine the other day and asked if I could please have a respite. I didn’t hear back. I usually don’t. But what I did receive in meditation is that life will always be filled with challenges.

And it’s not so much the challenges, but how we respond to them.

life challenges“Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know that,” I retorted, just a tad pissed off at that Great Force of Love. “But couldn’t you give me some time off for good behavior? A beach in Hawaii for three months where I soak in the sun and sip on rainbow-colored drinks with tiny umbrellas?”

I think I heard a Divine snigger somewhere in the distance, but I couldn’t be sure.

The truth is, anyone who has a pulse faces life challenges. An even deeper truth is that some of those challenges are horrific. There are the Syrian refugees, for example. They have lost everything. Every blessed thing.

There are those who are homeless in the bitter cold, some of them veterans who now have mental problems as a result of combat. Those facing a terminal illness or those grieving the loss of a parent, child or partner.

Then there are those who are about to commit suicide because the pain is so deep they just can’t go on anymore. (And if you’re contemplating taking your life, please don’t. Here’s a story I’d like you to read.)

My dad, before he had the stroke, was an amazing man and inspirational speaker.  He worked at a major TV market in Philadelphia for years before he retired. But his great love was giving his speeches and helping others.

girl by oceanWhen he was in his 20s, studying radio broadcast engineering in Puerto Rico, he had been walking on a beach. There, he saw a young woman, leaning against a palm tree and crying. She seemed distraught. My father wondered what he should do. Should he go up to her and ask what was wrong? Should he offer help? Not knowing what to do he kept walking on the beach.

When he returned that way an hour later, he saw a commotion on the beach. The woman had drowned herself.

And she had left a note. “My name is Nellie. The Nellie nobody knows. The Nellie no one cares about.”

From that day forward my father vowed he would never walk by anyone again who seemed troubled. He would tell others in his talks about this young girl and he would tell them that life was precious, that if they needed anyone to talk to, they could call him — any time of day, no matter where in the world they were. And he gave them his home number.

I wish now I could ask dad more about those stories. But the stroke impacted his cognition and speech. I do recall, however, that many young people did phone him. And dad would tell them again and again — life is worth living. You are here to do something with your life, to serve others with your gifts. He would tell them that they were loved. And that they mattered.

So here’s the deal, gang. Yes, life has challenges. No getting away from them. Some will be beyond imagining and you’ll feel like you can’t get through them. But you will. I haven’t been tested that deeply yet, but I figure at some point I will. And I’ll have to remember my words that yes, I’ll get through whatever “it” is, too.

But for the most part, the challenges in life will be ordinary, such as car or computer problems, or perhaps a bit more demanding, such as a health issue. No matter what comes our way, we can indeed choose how to respond.

hug yourselfAnd I’ll be honest here, I don’t always respond well. Sometimes I’ll throw a mini-tantrum. But that’s OK because I’m human. We all are. And it’s fine to be angry or upset about something that can feel overwhelming.

But I don’t stay there. Eventually, I settle in, take a deep breath, and am thankful. Thankful? You bet.

Life may be hard at times, but it is THE precious gift of life. My life. Your life. We learn, we grow, we stumble, we get up. It’s all part of the package deal of this thing we call “being human.”

And hopefully, we help each other along the way.

So be a light for someone else today. Don’t walk by them. Say hello if nothing else. And while you’re at it, hug yourself for all you’ve been through. You deserve it. I’ll do the same.

Love You

It’s hard to love ourselves. And I’m not sure why.

The reason I question this? If you believe we are made in the image of a Divine being, then that’s miraculous right there. What’s not to love, yes?

But self-love is a tough one. Depending on our upbringing and a variety of other factors, we tend to be at “dis-ease” with ourselves — too fat, too anxious, too old, too whatever. We’ve gotten fairly adept at telling ourselves lies. 

lack of self loveAnd when something comes up in us that we judge as “unpleasant” — we shove it away. Or down. With food. Alcohol. Work. Whatever it takes not to see those parts of ourselves we really can’t love. We don’t make them welcome.

Perhaps this is “the” original sin, the way we treat ourselves as abandoned sons and daughters.

On the other hand, maybe I’m wrong.

Maybe some of you have mastered the art of self-care and self-love and at this point are pretty darned good at it. Your self-love is healthy enough that you accept all of your being, welcome your emotions in all their shades of color, exercise your mind and body, have an enriching spiritual life and community, and when you fail at some life endeavor, you dust yourself off, start again and are an overall terrific self-lover.

Become mentors for the rest of us. Please.

For the most part I believe that many of us struggle with self-love. I know I do. Every. Blessed. Day.

I wake to the same 10 pounds (ok, who am I kidding — 20 pounds) that I want to lose and judge myself for being unable to do that, even though I’m trying.

I get cranky when I’m tired and lately, I’ve been exhausted, and when I’m like that, I’m not only unkind to myself by grabbing that extra cookie (ok, who am I kidding — plural — cookies), but I’m also not too nice to others, by being curt or uninvolved.

self-love-healthyThe irony of all that is, I can get caught up in a cycle of judging myself. But all those things I mentioned? They are prompts — guides, if you will — to help me — and all of us to learn to be accepting, gentle and welcoming of ourselves.

Here’s a story that might help. In the scheme of life, it’s a simple tale but that I remember it some 40 years later says a great deal.

I had been painfully shy as a young woman — so shy that I couldn’t look people in the eyes. Most of my life, others had criticized me for being so quiet, exacerbating what I already judged to be a character flaw.

When I moved to Georgia to work with the poor, I was 24 years old. And I marveled at a new friend, one who seemed at ease in her own skin. I observed her being true to herself, in her interactions with others, admitting mistakes, accepting whatever came and all of her “self” with grace.

One day in a group setting, someone told me, yet again, that I was too quiet and shy. My friend spoke up and defended me. “But that’s who she is. Isn’t that wonderful?”

She was the first in my life to tell me I was OK — just as I was. It freed me. I started to become more gentle with “me” and all parts of my being.

self-love2Sometimes we don’t have that outside person to do that for us and we must dig deep and do it for ourselves. When we feel down on ourselves, not loving and accepting ourselves, we need to affirm, as my friend did for me those many years ago, that no matter our perceived imperfections, that we are indeed wonderful.

The truth is, we don’t need to be anyone else other than who we are. And who we are is holy and good, made in the image of someone who adores us beyond measure.

Am I there yet with self-love? Let’s just say that I’m better at it some days than others. I am, as the saying goes, a work in progress. But that’s also good because it means I am ever-growing into self-acceptance.

In her book Eat. Pray. Love. best-selling author Liz Gilbert had been at her wit’s end in her marriage and needed help. Never having prayed before, she turned to God and said, “I’ve always been a big fan of your work.”

I love the honesty of those words. Because YOU are God’s work. Me, too. Each one of us.

So let’s be a fan. Flaws and all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The cornfield

I must be honest.  January and February are not my favorite months. The lesson of acceptance is always with me and I’ve yet to learn how to embrace the bleak landscape, the barren, bony tree branches, the biting winds and cold of this time of year.

So let me tell you about a cornfield. Yes, a cornfield.

I have loved cornfields since childhood, when I used to run barefoot through the one on my grandfather’s land, the one he plowed in the hollers of Tennessee. The smell of the rich earth filled my nose as I wove my way through the towering stalks, lost in a rustling maze of wonder.

cornfield winterThis particular cornfield near me — one that developers have not swallowed up yet to McMansions — is one I drive past at least once a day. The land is vast and spreads to the horizon. This cornfield has become a prayer for me, a mentor and teacher.

Right now, the ground is furrowed and stripped, with broken bits of stalks poking up through the hard, cold earth. The land has yielded its corn and now it is resting.  Waiting.

I tell myself I must do this, too. I have worked long and hard this past year, on many fronts, and sometimes I don’t realize, like many of us, how tired I am until I stop and rest. A physical and spiritual fatigue has been asking to be heard. And although I may not like the stillness of “not doing” — I must allow myself to simply “be” in the winter of life.

Indeed, given my age, I am in the winter of my life.  The cornfield teaches me to burrow deep into the soil of my soul. There — if I am silent and listen — I may discover what wants to be born within me. Nothing can be rushed during this time.

And so, this period of uncertainty sets me on edge. Because truthfully, I don’t know what will be born.  I am in a period — yet again — of waiting.

Sadly, we have become a people who have forgotten how to do this — to wait in the “not knowing.” We rush. And we have somehow lost our rhythm and no longer move with the grace of nature and the seasons.

This past Christmas showed that to me all too clearly. I was aware of the high-pitched frenetic pace around me. Everyone seemed to be pushing to get everything done and ready, without time for breath or spiritual preparation.

Now, with the holidays behind us, what next?

The day after Christmas, I went into the local corner market and one of the staff  was dismantling the Christmas tree.

“Already?” I asked her, as I stepped inside.

She gave me a look. “Why not? Christmas is over.”

But aren’t there Twelve Days of Christmas I asked myself, heading to the parking lot? Shouldn’t we allow time to savor the joy of this season? Isn’t this time of celebration the fruit of patient waiting when we were swallowed up by the winters of life and the cold earth?

woman in cornfieldThe good news in that when we learn to wait and be in the present, to allow life its own pace — we are re-born and find ourselves anew. Waiting becomes golden and awe plants itself deeply in the soul.

In her book When the Heart Waits author Sue Monk  Kidd writes these beautiful words in a letter to the Divine, and it is much the way I feel about this cornfield:

“Here, surrounded and permeated by your creation, I feel YOU. I feel life. I know myself connected … when I think of the simplicity and extravagance of creation, I want to bend down and write the word YES across the earth so that you can see it.”

So, this year I am writing “YES” across my soul and heart. Yes to January and February. Yes to waiting and new life. Yes to this cornfield. Yes. Yes.