“The desert is a place of great undoing.” Ryan Kuja
“The Bible abounds in references to the desert and the wilderness. Encounters with God, both directly and through prophetic voices, took place in scenes of desolation. God spoke on an empty stage, knowing how easily the sound of rivers diverted human attention.” Yi-Fu Tuan
(In case you’re wondering if Yi-Fu Tuan is a Confucius mentor, he is not, he is a Professor Emeritus of Geography at the University of Wisconsin, and Ryan Kuja is a modern day Christian contemplative, not a Hindu mystic.)
I have been reading and rereading a book on desert and mountain spirituality by a fellow named Belden C. Lane titled The Solace of Fierce Landscapes. I began reading this before the corona virus emerged into our lives. I think I was being prepared for what has come upon us as the virus is our desert experience. It is undoing us and certainly there are many churches with empty stages. This is an opportunity for an encounter with a God we don’t know; maybe he has our attention, and we can avoid being distracted by rivers streaming entertainment.
I don’t know about you, but this excites me, an adventure with a God I don’t know. How comfortable we have become with a known God who works in ways we understand, through books and sermons and pastors that have answers for us; it’s spiritual comfort food. The only path to spiritual growth, or making changes in our personal life, that I have ever experienced is through being undone with what I was already doing. And while having a Mr. Rogers in the Neighborhood is pleasant and comforting, it is insufficient for actual transformation.
The desert makes you look and listen; let’s embrace this moment.
There is much more to say, but I know we are scrolling through pages on Facebook.
We want to let all our clients know that Don Sizemore & Associates is offering telehealth services in a very convenient format. We can do all our counseling and many of our OT therapeutics through this format (my wife, Carolyn is an Occupational Therapist and partner). We will be contacting those of you who are active clients to arrange this service. Both Carolyn and I will continue to see clients face to face on a limited case by case basis either in their homes (Carolyn) or at the office (Don). We follow the social distancing and infectious protocols for disinfecting physical surfaces. Please let us know if you have any questions and our prayers are with everyone.
Please do the things that promote immune system functioning: meditation, exercise, good nutrition, stress management, and loving one another. Our spirit, mind, and body need to be made ready to battle whatever comes.
There is a fascinating convergence with neuroscience and tradition rich spiritual practices. Neuroscience, the study of how the brain works, is confirming what contemplatives (those who meditate and seek solitude and silence) have known for centuries, the mind can shape the physical structure of the brain. Neuroscientists call this neuroplasticity, something they denied was possible as little as 10 years ago and yet every one that prays, counsels, preaches, and teaches knew that transformation was and is possible; we can literally reshape the neural pathways of the brain, even significant mental health disorders like OCD. Healing happens and science is agreeing with spiritual traditions; how cool is that!
This is fascinating on several levels. I would recommend you listen to any of Dr. Jeffery Schwartz’s M.D. You Tube videos. Here is a link to one: https://youtu.be/S0-NmxR3Lcg. Dr. Schwartz is part of the exploding Mindfulness movement, a secular version of contemplative practices, especially meditation. He is also a believer in Jesus and got there from a Jewish heritage, to practicing Zen Buddhism, to following Jesus. I don't know the details of his spiritual journey, but the exciting and encouraging thing is that there is language developing that crosses all spiritual, secular, and scientific lines. If we look rightly, we can see how everything is connected, just like Jesus prayed in John 17:21: “May they all be one as you (God) and I are one.”
What is this language of connection? For those who practice meditation they know there is a presence that is not physical that shapes the physical brain. Believers in Jesus call it by many names, the Holy Spirit, the helper, the counselor, the comforter. I think it is our spirit working with His Spirit (Romans 8:16). Scientists call it the mind, focused awareness, other spiritual traditions call it enlightenment. There is significant healing going on with these practices and it is not just in Christian circles. God’s healing is not limited to Christian belief. He is a compassionate and loving God who brings His Love to all of us.
I believe something powerful is happening in all of this and we need to look “with eyes that see and ears that hear” to understand. Do not let your belief system get in your way of seeing and hearing what is going on; be open and trust, God is bigger than our fear.
Market Place Fear or Thrill Ride of Love
We often like to scare ourselves. We get a kick out of the adrenaline rush of fear that comes from a scary movie or a roller coaster ride. We like the feeling of being afraid as long as it comes in a form that is some sort of controlled context. The movie and the thrill ride have an end. We know that we are not in any real danger. As long as we know we have some sense of control over the situation we do not mind being scared. In fact, it is fun.
But what happens when we experience a situation that makes us feel helpless, when we don't know what to do to protect ourselves? We experience fear that seems to have no end and we are overwhelmed. Just think about our current economic and social situation. Many people are facing overwhelming economic difficulties as are many important financial institutions. Our financial structure is under great stress and we are facing uncertain outcomes. The words "panic" and "market crash" and "great depression" have been bandied around to describe our current situation. Experts in the field are warning us that we are vulnerable and exposed to a potentially devastating financial crisis.
How are you responding to this? This is an external threat to our well being and it seems no one, certainly not "us average citizens" have any control over the situation. If you listen to the dialogue of the financial experts they repeatedly comment that the financial institutions at the heart of the crisis do not know what to make of their situation. They are confused and disoriented. Their world has been turned upside down; they are confused about where the end point is, and they are frantically grasping for a firm hold. Their uncertainty has paralyzed their ability to act and so they panic.
What usually happens when we feel overwhelmed with fear is one of three things. We run, or we fight, or we freeze. This is the so called "stress response". In response to the financial crisis, we cash out and stuff our money in a mattress, or we act like Bill O'Reilly and many others who angrily attack and blame someone else, or we sit there like a deer in headlights and do nothing, not registering that a truck is about to hit us.
Is there another choice to the stress response? Are we locked into our instinctual response to threats? Can we look a threat in the face, even financial ruin or death and not be controlled by fear? Only if we believe that there is something more to life than what we can see, taste, or touch; only if we believe that life is fundamentally, basically, and organically infused by love.
The difference between feeling helpless and frightened or vulnerable and safe is most often a difference of perception. How do you perceive your world? Is it a hostile and threatening place where you must be on guard and defensive? Or can you be open and responsive, even in the face of threats, because you trust that the end game of life is love? A world infused by love is like a scary roller coaster ride; we feel the rush of fear but learn to trust that we can endure the ride.
Welcome to Interweave! It is my wish and desire that my postings will encourage, educate, and inspire you to live more fully the life you have been given. I know that writing these posts will bless me and force me to put into words what I have learned from walking with people in their personal struggles. It is a privilege for me to become such an intimate participant in another life. Counseling, psychotherapy or whatever you call a trained and dedicated listener to the movements of an individual soul or the struggles of a married couple or diagnosing the presence of a mental disorders usually happens when people are the most vulnerable. And when we are vulnerable we are usually the most real and honest.
Being in a state of vulnerability allows us to be authentic. You know you are touching something solid, without pretense and ready to be known. It often means we have come to the end our attempts to manage our life on our terms. We are ready to listen and learn; to be influenced by others and maybe even by God. It is a great place to be and it blesses me to be apart of the experience. Great things happen in our lives when we are vulnerable and authentic.
May your day be full of blessing,
Don Sizemore, LCSW