Embracing Our Phantoms

3 Oct

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I’ve always thought of the “Phantom of the Opera” as a haunting and dark love story. Never did I see it from a Jungian perspective, i.e. that the Phantom represents a vital part of Christine, the heroine. But when viewed as such, the story reflects deeper power. And in a way, the story makes a hell of a lot more sense. It’s not just a gothic tale with plush costumes. Instead it’s a tale of cosmic beauty.

What would it be like if the very part of us that we despised, that lived in the bowls of a church, was also the part of ourselves that served as our angel of music? What if the deformed part of ourselves, hiding beneath a mask, was the part that inspired creativity? The part that drew out beauty, passion, and Divinity? Would it be possible to love this Phantom? Or would we run from him in fear?

The reality is that if we deny this part of ourselves, it will indeed possess us. It will keep us captive. It will haunt our dreams and wake us up at night. It will keep us prisoner from the Light of day and keep us forever victims. It will also bar those waiting to fully love us in a way we never imagined possible.

Perhaps meeting our Phantom side represents the greatest love story ever. Here is the epic tale of befriending him in the dark and delivering him a kiss. Maybe it’s about touching the deformed face under the mask with profound gentleness and compassion. And when we do that, perhaps we are finally liberated. Free to leave the basement of the church and free to stand in majesty. Uniting with the animus, we are finally whole.

Perhaps the world’s greatest lover is right here inside oneself, in the music of the night.

Grasping for Control, Love, and Acceptance?

29 Sep

Do you ever find yourself grasping for control, love, or acceptance? Have you ever tried to wrangle life or relationships, as if they were animals you could tame or bend to your will? If so, you’ve probably found yourself ultimately frustrated when you realize life and relationships are things over which we have very little control.

So often in life, we want to call the shots. We’re taught in our individualistic society that we can do anything and everything and that we can conquer the world. I have come to see this as a fallacy. Through Spirit, I have consummate power but flying solo, I am just another person striving for dominance and validation via my ego. It’s a setup for disaster. When I operate this way, I become rigid, exhausted, and unappealing to be around. It is only when I surrender to something Higher than myself that my beauty and strength become illuminated.

Surrender is key but how do we learn this if all we’ve known is trying to manage things on our own?

Years ago I worked with emotionally disturbed children. Some of them had been so abused that it was common for them to need to be physically restrained at times to help them contain their angry impulses. When upset, they were known to pick up objects and hurtle them in the air, bite peers, or bang their heads against the wall. But of course when touching a wounded child, one has to be very careful. You have to be trained to do this so that the child feels safe and protected, not further abused and re-traumatized.

I remember watching a very upset little boy. He was no older than four years old. Our music and drama therapy session was ending and he was quite sad. Yet he didn’t know how to process his feelings about the play coming to a close. When my co-therapist and I told him that in five minutes we would begin to pack up the instruments, the child began to run around the room in circles. Next, he picked up a trash can and threw it. My co-therapist gently talked to the boy, first giving him directives to stop. When this yielded no results, my colleague calmly picked up the child and brought him into a basket hold. And then like a wounded animal, the child began to cry and said he didn’t want to leave the music/drama group. He was having too much fun.

I think we could all benefit from the strong loving arms of someone bigger than us, as we rage about all the things that have gone wrong in our lives. If we let God put us in a basket hold, it might soothe the broken, skittish parts of ourselves.

We want to fight yet it is far wiser to surrender. In that, there is power.

The other day, this rose fell from its stem. It had been part of a lovely bouquet. Rather than toss it out, I placed it in a mason jar of water. I remembered that my grandmother had created gorgeous flower arrangements sustained in water alone.

Instead of dying, this blossom has remained strong. Contained in the safety of glass and water, it has thrived.

When falling to the ground with petals wide open, would that I let the Lord drop me in a glass of water and protection. Would that I thrive and radiate my essence.


My Happy Place

23 Sep


From the time I was a child, this was my happy place. It’s still my happy place. Anywhere that I can make art collaborating with others is where I find my life force. It’s where I find God. Art is where we transcend, celebrate, unite, and become.

For Some, For Others, For YOU….

19 Sep

I have a colleague who often self-discloses about a traumatic car accident she had when she was sixteen. Hit by a drunk driver, she almost died. It took months for her physical injuries to heal and significantly longer for her psychological scars to heal. She was afraid to drive and became increasingly isolated. Distraught, she asked her mother, “When will I be normal again?” Her mother looked at her and quietly said, “For some, for others, for you.”

What a beautiful way to conceptualize healing and recovery. There is no cookie cutter formula for getting better and there is no specific timetable either. My colleague’s mother was basically saying that normal might as well be a setting on a dryer.

The best thing we can do when coping with trauma – (aka life) – is to approach our process with curiosity and compassion rather than judgment. Instead of asking, “Why am I not over this YET?!!!!”, we can instead ask, “What is still hurting that needs love and attention? What do I have yet to learn from this irritation and sting? How can I soothe the pain and transform it into something of beauty that affirms my life versus negates it? How can I help myself, and in helping myself, help others?”

Although we can begrudge winter and wish it away, nature never adheres to our pleas for summer. On the day we curse the snow and chill, Nature typically shows no mercy. The frigid air remains. Yet in her own time, she rewards our patience with miracles.

Although all our lives are unique, the themes of death and transformation are universal. Snow melts and Spring explodes in splendor. The roads clear and the driving conditions improve.

Eventually, we feel like driving again. We find the courage and the desire to get behind the wheel, heading out on the lone country road. We might not know where we’re headed or whether we’ll pick up any passengers, but we are indeed in the driver’s seat once more.

It is always the journey and not the destination that matters. And taking the road less travelled is often the most exquisite ride.


Who wants to stay stuck in traffic looking at a view of Target and WallMart? Why not take a much more glorious highway or side road while ditching the GPS?

For some, for others, and most important, for YOU.

Broken Open By Love

7 Sep


Sadly, it is often only in retrospect that we see our parents more clearly. It took my mom’s death to really understand the depths of her love for me, despite her deficiencies stemming mostly from alcoholism and depression.

My mom was not initially depressed. In my formative years she was vivacious, enthusiastic, hard working, and fun. But when her second marriage ended, my mother was never the same again. That was the beginning of the end for her emotionally.

I remember being frustrated at her never ending melancholy that would get amped up during the holidays. Who would carve the turkey, if there wasn’t a man to do it? Why cook a turkey if there wasn’t a man there to enjoy it? And who would help us put the Christmas tree on top of the car and who would get it in the stand? These were the jobs for men. Now, we women had to figure it out. I was a kid. I loved Thanksgiving and Christmas. I just wanted to enjoy the bloody holidays without her still crying over a husband who was no longer around.

What I didn’t realize was that in some ways, the train had left the station for my mom. Despite actively dating, she never again found a suitable partner. The whole process wore her down. When she did finally feel a connection with someone, he was married. Completely out of character with her morals, she had an affair, which of course was the worst thing ever for her self-esteem. The man never left his wife for her and once again, my mom felt she had no value. She couldn’t get a man to stick. She also had to make her way in the world financially all on her own, which she nobly did.

During the time I focused on her neurosis and fragility, I neglected to see her largesse of spirit. It took her years to get over the hurt of her second failed marriage and yet because of me, she learned to forgive. When I moved back to California as an adult, I initially stayed with the man she’d been married to and with his family. It must have torn at her heart that I was with them instead of her, but she didn’t have room for me in her tiny studio apartment. At the end of the day, she knew that her ex was helping me in ways she couldn’t. When he bought me a much needed used car, my mom was grateful despite the weirdness of it all. She was able to transcend her hurt of not getting the life she desired for the fact that he was helping me, her daughter, who needed father figures in her life. My mother also showed up at my biological father’s bedside when he was dying, once again to support me.

My mom always thought that her second ex-husband stopped loving her. I think he always cared for her, despite moving on to a new relationship, but that was too hard for her to see. After all, she never got another shot with someone. And she wanted the love that comes to a wife; not the love that feels more like that reserved for an acquaintance or neighbor. A “hello” here, a “hey, what’s up?” there… But once again, it’s the breaking of hearts that often opens them. When my mom died by suicide, it was her ex that was there with me identifying the body. It was her ex and his wife, that hosted my relatives at their house because with Comic-Con on that week in San Diego, all the hotels were booked. He and his wife hosted the reception after my mom’s service and took me under their wing during my grief.

One day while swimming and trying to work out an issue that had been troubling me, I felt my mother’s spirit so strongly that tears came to my eyes despite the fact that I was submerged in water. I heard her say in my head, “On the other side, it doesn’t matter. All the things humans worry about, it doesn’t matter either way. In the end, it doesn’t matter.” I realized then that she’d found the love she’d so long craved on earth. The love that here on this planet we often fail to perceive because we’re caught up in duality, caught up in lack, caught up in ego, and caught up in need. Living in a human body, in the human world, is painful.

It’s a long journey home. It takes active work to perceive that home is here and available to us all while still living in this dimension. My mother reminds me that love is all there is, if we reach out to Spirit and ask Spirit’s presence to be known. The rest of it just doesn’t really matter.



Transcending Dimensions

4 Sep

Driving home the other day, after having a two hour coffee with someone twenty years my junior, I suddenly realized something. My trend to be friends with people twenty years my senior has expanded to folks at the other end of the spectrum as well. I realized that I had had dinner the other night with someone in her twenties, that one of my closest friends this summer has been someone in her twenties, and my dear friend, Charissa is nearing 30. Likewise, some of my favorite people are in their late sixties.

So often, we think we’ll have things in common with people our age, but that isn’t always the case. Just about everybody in my age bracket is consumed with taking their children to soccer practice and maintaing their mortgages. My older friends have finished doing that and my younger friends haven’t started. Some of my younger friends, still single, volunteer for humanitarian causes internationally, and some of my older friends, divorced or widowed, also do tremendous amounts of service. Then there’s my 75 year old friend who just got back from a cruise with her boyfriend who she met two years ago in a hiking meet up group. She too swims at the pool, has an active meditation practice, and wild, kinky blond hair like mine. I find this all fascinating. I am also amazed at the vast wisdom and talents of my younger friends.

Taylor Swift sings of shaking it off, but I also think in life that we need to shake it up. It’s important to have friends of all ages, ethnicities, religions, occupations and social classes.  Learn to speak more than your own language – literally and figuratively. Be in the world and your world expands.

My grandmother, who is 96 and on hospice care used to tell me she never wanted to be part of the Organ Club. “What’s that?” I asked her. “People in my age group who only want to talk about their doctor appointments and what organ is failing them. I just find that depressing.” So my grandmother always took an interest in younger people. She had many friends. As I move through my forties, I’m seeing the great wisdom in her mindset. We should never think that we’re getting too old to do new things or to connect with others. That is the beginning of death.

A few years ago, my friend Charissa and I took a road trip up the California coast. It was one of the best trips of my life. We dubbed ourselves Thelma and Louise because in that iconic film, Thelma was a bit younger than Louise.


We weren’t this bad ass looking but we felt the incredible joy of freedom. It’s something to treasure, to hold on to, and to cultivate all one’s life.


On Trauma, New Hearts, And New Bones

29 Aug

Without a doubt, Ezekiel is one of the weirdest books of the bible. It juxtaposes extremely misogynist, violent passages with some of the most exquisite prose on healing and redemption ever written. It is a strange read indeed and perhaps one of my favorite texts – perhaps because of this very contrast between horror and transcendence.


Ezekiel is rarely preached on. After all, how do you explain that God alludes to Jerusalem as a whore, for aligning herself with other nations and that for this unfaithfulness, God basically decrees she is brutalized, raped, stoned, and cut to pieces?

Ezekiel 16:35 – Therefore, O whore, hear the word of the Lord: 36 Thus says the Lord God, Because your lust was poured out and your nakedness uncovered in your whoring with your lovers, and because of all your abominable idols, and because of the blood of your children that you gave to them, 37 therefore, I will gather all your lovers, with whom you took pleasure, all those you loved and all those you hated; I will gather them against you from all around, and will uncover your nakedness to them, so that they may see all your nakedness. 38 I will judge you as women who commit adultery and shed blood are judged, and bring blood upon you in wrath and jealousy. 39 I will deliver you into their hands, and they shall throw down your platform and break down your lofty places; they shall strip you of your clothes and take your beautiful objects and leave you naked and bare. 40 They shall bring up a mob against you, and they shall stone you and cut you to pieces with their swords. 41 They shall burn your houses and execute judgments on you in the sight of many women; I will stop you from playing the whore, and you shall also make no more payments. 42 So I will satisfy my fury on you, and my jealousy shall turn away from you; I will be calm, and will be angry no longer. 43 Because you have not remembered the days of your youth, but have enraged me with all these things; therefore, I have returned your deeds upon your head, says the Lord God.

Yeah. That’ll preach…

I’m not a biblical scholar so I’m not going to exegete this text or provide a long historical context for this particular book of the Old Testament. Yet current scholars speak of the prophet as being traumatized himself, as a Hebrew in exile, and that some of the violence of his exhortations reflects his own experiences of victimization. Scholars claim Ezekiel’s own internalization of the oppressor. What I’m more focused on are the healing and the redemptive components of the book. How do traumatized people restore their hearts and souls? How do humans find meaning, hope, and life after profound brutality? How do cultures that have been decimated, exterminated and/or marginalized ever experience wholeness again? How do survivors survive? How do people face the horrors of man’s inhumanity to man and not have hearts of stone? How do people receive new hearts? These are the challenges of healing trauma on personal and political levels. More often than not, we need God’s redemptive grace for transformation to occur.

If God is the breath – the spirit – the ruach – how do we breathe in new life?

Is it not in breathing that emotions release and life force begins to flow again?

We see in Ezekiel 37 a profound shift in language and message:

The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord God, you know.”  Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.”

So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.” I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.

Ezekiel 36:26 states: A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.

I love these passages for as I watch the news each night and take in what I know of the world, the amount of trauma truly overwhelms. The degree of suffering in the world is beyond belief. But somehow, the spirit endures. It lives and transforms and there is a message of hope – despite it all.

While I don’t condone the misogynist language of this ancient patriarchal text, the violent metaphors, contrasted with healing and redemption, nonetheless exerts its power.


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