I spent many years of my life saying no to opportunities that felt like too much of a stretch. It was a protective mechanism leading me into the false belief that I was managing my anxiety. If I just didn't put myself out there, or take on that role, or do that thing that triggered the anxiety, then all would be well.
The problem was that this way of thinking and acting in the world led me down the road of isolation. The anxiety and my fears only worsened and I eventually realized that instead of feeling better, it was only getting worse. Cue Ellen Hendriksen's book on healing social anxiety. The understanding and wisdom offered in this book, combined with my ACIM study and practice, helped me see where I needed to do things differently in order to heal.
On January 1st 2020, after a Course-inspired New Year's practice, I spent some time in nature to pray. I started off with my usual "Dear God..." and then the only word that came into my awareness was "yes."
Dear God, yes.
That was the prayer that formed in my mind. That's it. On January 1st 2020, my only prayer was a big fat YES to God. I had no idea what was in store for me, I just knew I would say yes.
And I did. I said yes to things that have pushed me, stretched me, made me face my fears and grow beyond them. To things that have deepened my sense of spirituality and faith through rising through and above the challenges that came along with them. To things I have grown to love.
And yet, maybe I said yes to too many things.
I'm thinking this year is the year I learn to say no. But not from defensive protectiveness. I think there's a different kind of no. A no that comes from a place of loving kindness. A no that still recognizes my holiness and the holiness of my brothers. A no that comes from being in stillness, asking and listening for guidance. A no that allows me to say yes to the path God is leading me on with clarity and devotion.
A no that holds within it a deep and resounding yes.
We are blessed with a home that sits on 2.6 acres of land, most of that being a large field. Over the years we've added some texture to that field. We've planted trees along the road. We've cultivated forsythias to create a winding pathway - our "yellow brick road" - that leads from the center of the field to a shady sit-spot along the tree line, under the wide and embracing branches of a hickory tree. And we leave small sections of the field un-mowed to create undercover for little critters and to allow wild plants and flowers to grow for the bees and butterflies and birds.
My most favorite part of our field, however, is the labyrinth my husband keeps mowed for me in the back corner of the field. It's a simple labyrinth with a small stone bench in the center, and a half mile walk in and back out. I have walked miles upon miles in that labyrinth over the past 8 years.
Yesterday was a particularly nice New England winter morning. The perfect amount of cold balanced with the perfect amount of morning sun. Birds flittering about the trees and singing in the woods that abut two sides of the field. A lazy morning of skipping church in order to join with my husband and son in watching the final World Cup soccer game.
And on this morning, I connected with an ACIM experience of walking the labyrinth. As I followed the path in towards the center, I had the sense of letting go the world. All its appearances and illusions. All my fears and doubts. All my interpretations and judgments.
²I who remain as God created me would loose the world from all I thought it was. ³For I am real because the world is not, and I would know my own reality. [CE W-132.15:2-3]
As I loosed the world from all I thought it was, I moved closer to the center - the center of the labyrinth and the center of my being. Closer to my Self as God created me, closer to God Whom I've never actually left in truth. Until I arrived in the center, sitting on the bench, completely present in that moment, feeling the sun warm my face and listening to the birds.
3 The present now remains the only time. ²Here in the present is the world set free. ³For as you let the past be lifted and release the future from your ancient fears, you find escape and give it to the world. [CE W-132.3:1-3]
Here I prayed, present in this moment, allowing myself to rest in God until it felt like my time there was complete. As I walked the labyrinth back out, I considered what I was bringing with me back into the world. A new state of mind, centered in a glimpse of remembering the truth of who I am.
Walking back out into the world, bringing with me the readiness to offer my brothers the peace, joy, hope, and love - the miracles - to which we are all entitled to.
1 You are entitled to miracles because of what you are. ²You will receive miracles because of what God is. ³And you will offer miracles because you are one with God. [CE W-77.1:1-3]
I stopped into our local grocery store this morning to pick up a gift card to Michael's for my mom-in-law for Christmas. As I stood at the end-cap, searching for a Michael's gift card, the woman next to me commented on how they had gift cards for every business except the one she was searching for - Barnes and Noble. When she walked away, I moved in to get a closer look in my search and lo and behold, I found the Barnes and Noble gift cards!
I quickly grabbed one and found the woman a few aisles over. She was pleasantly surprised and thankful, and joined me as I walked back to the gift cards. As I pointed out the location, I exclaimed how the tables had turned - I found her's, but it appeared they did not have the one I was looking for. When she asked, I told her Michael's and then started to walk away.
As I did, I heard her exclaim, "here it is!" As she pulled it off the rack to hand to me, I burst out laughing. Neither one of us alone could find what we were looking for. But in her gratitude of my finding what she was looking for, she was able to return the favor by finding what I was looking for.
Had I found the gift card she wanted, but not taken the step to let her know (or had she not even spoken to a stranger in the first place!), we would've both walked away disappointed - not having seen what was right in front of our eyes. We laughed together, feeling a little silly, and at the same time expressing our gratitude, and wishing each other a Merry Christmas.
This was a simple encounter, and yet one I hold in my heart as a holy encounter. I know we both walked away lighter - filled with the joy of helping one another and joining together in laughter, gratitude, and love.
6 When you meet anyone, remember it is a holy encounter. ²As you see him, you will see yourself. ³As you treat him, you will treat yourself. ⁴As you think of him, you will think of yourself. ⁵Never forget this, for in him you will find yourself or lose sight of yourself. ⁶Whenever two Sons of God meet, they are given another chance at salvation. ⁷Do not leave anyone without giving salvation to him and receiving it yourself. ⁸For I am always there with you, in remembrance of you. [CE T-8.II.6]
This is my life so real. I've had the name for this blog for years. Maybe a decade now. I've always known it would somehow be related to my journey with A Course In Miracles. I just wasn't quite sure how it fit. I know this physical world is an illusion, a testament to a belief in separation. So how could it be my life so real when it's not real?
It was something that came up in the Circle of Atonement's recent workshop on prayer that brought things into focus for me. A graphic of a timeline was shared. On top of the timeline were images that depict our physical journey in the world. Events like our birth, growing up, graduation, career, marriage, family, etc...all the way to death.
Below the timeline, were images depicting our spiritual journey - our "real journey" - the journey to God that is taking place as our life, or our physical journey, in the world is playing out. Love expressed, miracles offered, healing shared, joining with others, forgiveness, prayer. Essentially, the journey that plays out underneath all the doings of my life in the world.
This is how I connect with a life so real. Amidst all the minutiae, all the mundane responsibilities, all the tasks on the to-do list, all the things that need to get done for work, and yes, even my struggles with anxiety...all of those things carry the potential to be infused with God's love. It is my choice to make if I want this journey to lead me towards God or away.
Spoiler alert: I'm choosing towards. And it's a choice I have to intentionally make quite often!
Sometimes I make this choice looking back on a situation or event or encounter. Sometimes I make it in the moment. Sometimes I even make it in advance, going into an encounter with the thought already in my mind of making it a holy one, of expressing kindness and love. My anxiety brain really likes to get in the way of that.
So does my task driven brain. A few months ago, I was serving as one of the Deacons on duty (DOD) for Sunday church service. There are a number of things the DOD is responsible for before, during, and after service. One of those tasks is taking count of the number of attendees that morning.
On this Sunday, we were nearing the end of the service when I realized I hadn't done the count yet. As everyone stood for one of the songs, I briskly made my way to the back of the sanctuary with the intention of going up to the balcony in order to get that head count. There was a gentleman sitting back there in a wheelchair, alongside his caregiver. I had never seen him in church before (and I have not seen him since.) As I walked by him, he reached out his hand to me.
As I took his hand in mine, these thoughts started running through my head. I don't have time for this. I need to take a head count. How long do I need to hold his hand before I can get back to what I was doing?!
I was confronted with the choice to hold his hand for a brief moment and get back to my task. Or to hold his hand in true joining. Honestly, it wasn't even a choice. My brother had literally reached out his hand to save me. I stood there and held his hand through the rest of the service. I knew without a doubt that was what I needed to do. Not necessarily for him, but for me. It wasn't an "oh, I'll just be nice and hold his hand." It was an actually feeling that in that moment he was saving me from myself.
I held his hand with presence. With the full understanding that this was a sacred moment of joining. That holding his hand was the most important thing I could be doing. That moment changed me. He offered me a miracle and I made the choice to receive it.
That encounter still sits so powerfully in my memory and in my heart. Nothing else about that service does. Nothing else about the doings of that day does.
As life was playing out, as I was going about the busy doings of my church responsibilities, a brother reached out his hand and returned me to the real journey. He brought me closer to God.
As I type this, I'm sitting here wondering...how many opportunities like this have I missed? How many times have I allowed the minutiae to get in the way of the real journey? How often have I allowed my focus on the world to block my ability to see with Christ's vision? How often do I allow my fears to create a divide between me and my brother?
Too often, I'd say. But I am willing to make a different choice.
"Whenever you are tempted to undertake a foolish journey that would lead away from light, remember what you really want, and say: The Holy Spirit leads me unto Christ, and where else would I go? What need have I but to awake in Him?" (T-13.VIII.5:1-3)