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Ghosts & Hopes

I was awake before dawn again this morning. I'm not sure why I fight getting up early. Being the only one awake to greet the dawn, even on this cloudy, drizzly day, is actually a blessedly peaceful gift. I like to think that "sleeping in" is a luxury, but having a quiet couple of hours to myself is soothing, especially if I wisely use that time to journal, read, and reflect. Oftentimes, when I sleep later, I tend to skip over my contemplative time and jump into "being productive" right away.

Take those three days of rain we had earlier in the week. Since I couldn't be in the garden, I decided it was high time to organize the garage, because I couldn't get to half of my gardening supplies even when I could dig in the dirt. This led to an obvious need to declutter, i.e. GET RID OF SOME OF THIS UNNECESSARY SHIT. I have also discovered this beautiful thing called Facebook Marketplace, where other people pay you to take away your unnecessary shit. You want these two fancy wire racks that have been the bane of my existence, gathering dust after being used ineffectively for five years? So much so that you will drive to my house and give me $15? Huzzah!

The best part of this whole deal is not the extra cash, although there was a time in my life when I sold stuff just so I could buy groceries or pay my rent. No, the best part is finally making space for what I want to keep and being able to find it when I need it.

If only there was a Facebook Marketplace for all the unnecessary emotional stuff I have been holding onto all these years...

In lieu of such a useful tool, I usually resort to emotional sorting and decluttering in the wee hours when everyone else is sleeping. During the solemnity of this early morning, I picked up a book I've been reading about labyrinths, The Sacred Path Companion, by Lauren Artress. I had left off at a chapter titled Shadow Work, in which Artress explains the Jungian psychology of a repressed "shadow self" - the unconscious negative and positive traits that are based in our hidden fears and desires. I had done some shadow work studying the Enneagram with my spiritual advisor and thought I was well-versed in the concept, but I was humbly chastised reading that, "The first step to working with the shadow is the most challenging: to accept that you have responsibility and accountability in everything you do. This includes everything that happens to you, because you play the major character in your own drama. If you don't take responsibility, you project the problem onto other people and this places you in a victim role. Someone else is to blame."

Ugh, I have to admit I've been taking the role of the victim for far too long.

I hide it well, but underneath my generally cheery public disposition, I've been surly and resentful at home, unhappy and not able to understand why I can't accept my blessed life for what it is: a blessing. I think back to my first blog post and wonder that, at the start of the pandemic and stay-at-home order, I believed myself to be well-prepared for a time of isolation and solitude. The reality is, this time has uncovered the truth about what I haven't been willing to see for a long time - I'm not taking responsibility for who I'm becoming as I reach middle age. Instead, I see how I throw myself at various projects trying to find some semblance of purpose. I blame others for what I feel I've given up or lost in the face of situations that didn't work out the way I planned. I focus with regret on what is changing in my life that is largely beyond my control. My restless, unsettled outlook on life has certainly been exacerbated by the effects of the pandemic, but it was there long before Covid.

Maria Cardinal presents a beautiful idea in The Words to Say It, which Lauren Artress quotes at the beginning of her Shadow Work chapter:

"Until you learn to name your ghosts and to baptize your hopes, you have not yet been born; you are still someone else's creation."

This morning, I finally took an honest look at some of the aspects of myself that I have refused to see or would prefer to stay hidden, along with the ghosts and hopes they reveal:

1) I have a tendency to push others away if I feel inadequate and insecure in a professional or personal capacity. (Who am I kidding? This tendency shows up when I feel inadequate and insecure in any capacity.)

Ghost: I am paralyzed by the fear of being judged unworthy, not belonging, or being abandoned and would rather not been seen at all than be "not good enough."

Hope: I dream of serving in a leadership capacity that utilizes my gifts of spiritual insight, creative inspiration, and what some have called brilliant intelligence. (It is scary to admit this here.)

2) I have a tendency to avoid creative work I feel inspired to pursue, and instead get bogged down with more mundane household tasks.

Ghost: Focusing on things that are seemingly "productive" allows me to feel like I'm "earning my keep" while also blaming and resenting the traditional gender roles of "wife and mother" for getting in the way of my artistic dreams. I imagine I'm afraid of success just as much as I'm afraid of failure.

Hope: I aspire to be an active and successful artist and musician, whose creative profession and individual contribution to her work is prioritized above household responsibility.

3) I have a tendency to disrespect rules and authority, which has made it challenging for me to feel at ease in my marriage, organized religion, and the traditional workplace.

Ghost: I am afraid of being controlled or constrained, and I feel suffocated by long-term commitments.

Hope: I relish my spontaneity and entrepreneurial spirit, and I want to live a life guided by innate inner wisdom, boundless spirituality, and limitless creativity.

I will be honest here - Naming these hopes feels way more vulnerable than offering up an exhaustive list of my failures and insecurities. I have to resist the urge to follow up these statements with some harsh self-deprecating comments before anyone else has a chance to render their own criticism. But maybe this is what it feels like to honestly "name your ghosts and baptize your hopes" - to hold them up in community and ask for forgiveness and blessings from the Great Mystery, just as one might in a traditional baptism.

With that intention at heart, I offer up these ghosts and hopes (and ones I didn't name or can't yet see) along with a prayer of new creation, inspired by Sue Monk Kidd's inspiring new novel, The Book of Longings:

"Bless the gifts, hopes, and desires in me that no longer wish to remain hidden, slave to the ghosts of my past habits and fears. Increase my awareness, wisdom, courage, and strength so that I have the capacity to empower who I am becoming. Help me to take responsibility for the creation of my own life and remain accountable by asking for what I need, prioritizing what is important to me, relying on others when I need support, doing the hard work of reaching out and taking the risk of being seen for who I am, and trusting that I will serve myself and others most by simply being me. Forgive me when I forget and gently remind me that the gift of being truly myself is the greatest honor I can give back to the Mystery that is responsible for these longings of my heart."

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