Recipe to Rehab a Cerebrum

Recipe to Rehab a Cerebrum*

 

Prep: Zero seconds

Cook: A lifetime

Total: ??

Yield: Hope

 

Ingredients

 

Sleep, first and foremost

Not to much sleep, second of all

Books that aren’t meaningless, but are funny

Not to much reading (might get lost in the mind maze)

Meditation

Not to much meditation

Pet an animal (get permission first)

Healthy, good food (but don’t fixate on what you do or do not eat)

Exercise

Not to much exercise

Unforced laughter 

Time in nature, preferably with bare feet (Arkansans are on to something)

Hard work 

Not to much hard work

Water (3.7 liters/day for men, 2.7 liters/day for women)

A home where you feel safe (if you don’t have it, you’re going to be depressed until you do, but keep fighting anyway)

Regular trips to the chiropractor (leave out if your insurance coverage is shit)

Biweekly appointments with a therapist (same)

Sex

No sex with people who make you feel more depressed

Company

Not to much company

Alone time (best spent writing, talking to yourself in the shower, singing, or dancing)

Service to others (even just a walk around the block to pick up trash. It still counts if no one sees it, and if you don’t have the energy to post about it on social media.)

Love (if at first you don’t succeed, read a book about it, pray, ask some folks, meditate on it, and try try again)

 

*Before, during, or after attempting this recipe, contact a professional to see if medication may be right for you.

The Conversation We Would Have

If I talked to any form of God, any idea of a “supreme being”, while I walked around my neighborhood, I think the conversation would go something like

how did you think all of this up? Where did the idea for house cats and lightning rods on steeples and teeth come from? How the hell did you think up the entire concept of teeth, Lord?

There are so many good books written, and I’ve only had time to read them because there is a global pandemic at play which has given me more time, actually, sort of given me my life back. It has reminded me to take time off, to be, to think spacious thoughts, and feel music rather than just use it to fill the silence.

Jelly Beans exist. I mean, people–the Mayans–realized years and years ago that they could plant certain yellow seeds in rows, and in those rows tall green plants would shoot up, and inside the silky palms of those tall plants would be hard sticks covered with kernels that could be boiled and eaten. People ground the kernels up and invented ways to make delicious, nourishing foods out of what the plant produced. People even figured out that these kernels could be popped and turned into a crunchy, satisfying snack food. Then, much later, gummy candy was invented. Then, someone somewhere decided to make a gummy candy not much bigger than a kernel that actually tasted like the crunchy version of the yellow plant that had been discovered. Someone thought up this idea and now it’s a stock childhood experience to exclaim in amazement, “it takes just like buttered popcorn. I can’t believe it, it is so good!”

I think I would also talk to God about my friend’s who don’t have what they need, emotionally or physically or both. I would ask

why does the woman who has worked twice as hard as me for twice as long still have nothing? Why can I go to the dentist at the drop of a hat, but she has to wait nearly two months to be seen for an abscess?

Why is the homeless man the one preaching on the sidewalk about how we all suck in the same air and when the Man Upstairs wants you, it’ll be your time to go? Why can I barely breath when I see scores of people seated on restaurant patios? Why are they seated so close together? Why do I care?

I would ask the One Who Made Me why people are so hard headed that they keep having sex without condoms on, why only old men become president, and how come human creativity hasn’t fixed the problems we have here yet?

Why are kids hungry?

Why do men in white sedans follow women and make us so nervous that we call a friend, walk closely behind a couple we don’t know, and place an order for pepper gel just as soon as we’re home?

Why isn’t everyone on earth literate, able to consume the literature that is sometimes  my only access to enlightened thinking?

Why is the sky blue some nights, but more indigo on others?

How did you know that we would need sunsets beautiful and ruggedly unpredictable that we could see from any place on earth? When did it occur to you? Did it come to you in a dream? Or did you hear it in a song whose melody curled up from your record player, and filled your living room with creativity?

This is the conversation I’d have with God, if She joined me on my summer evening walks.

 

The Way I Was Taught

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere, Dr. MLK Jr says. A similar truth, I say, is that justice anywhere is a threat to injustice everywhere.

With the recent surge in attention towards violence perpetrated against Black citizens of the United States (arguably, the largest Civil Rights movement of history), I return to studying Black liberation literature, a study I regret ever neglecting (how many people died while I didn’t trouble myself to undo my White Supremacist education). I read bell hooks, Patrisse Khan-Cullors & Asha Bandela, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Austin Channing Brown, and Layla Saad’s Me and White Supremacy waits on my shelf, as well as more bell hooks. I remember, as I read, how life-changing Malcolm X, Cornel West, W.E.B. Dubois were for me the first time I woke up from The Dream. The Dream is how Ta-Nehesi Coates labels the American empire, the racist mirage, the white-washed delusion that American citizens live in (Between the World and Me).

This conversation isn’t about me, but as I read his book, I reflect on the fact that I am one of them. I am one of those deluded American citizens. In The Dream, I was born at the top of the food chain, in the Capitol rather than in the districts (thank you, Hunger Games). Coates writes at length about this racist system, his words are eloquent, and he leaves no stone unturned in regards to the racist machine of my people, my country. I don’t have words to add to his about race. Read his books, they speak for themselves. Coates, whose prose overcomes me with sadness and gratitude (for the revelation of Truth) all at a time, speaks for my heart, even as he speaks from his own perspective (very different than mine), to his son.

I do, however, have reflections about my own experiences of classism and racism, that I share as a practice of introspection, stirred up in me by the works of literature in my hands.

As I grow up, there are “bad” parts of Little Rock. There are places where–spoken or unspoken–my people agree not to visit. There are places my people agree not to shop. There are communities my socialization intentionally blinds me to. During that time of my life, the adults imply that people there are not fully people. A man sleeping by a garbage can is invisible, and thus, less-than-human. People who drive cars that break down on the interstate (more broadly, people who ever need help) are unorganized, use their money frivolously, they’re the problem, they don’t work hard enough. They’re not human. They should have behaved differently to avoid those situations like we (humans) did.

As a child, I assume that in those grocery stores, people yammer like Ewoks, or they sneeze without covering their noses, or do some other heinous thing that makes them less human, less like me. My childish mind struggles to make sense of what I am taught, because my heart balks against the fault of logic in this curriculum of hierarchy. I need to witness them being less human than me in order to believe that they are. To me, it looks like a man with dark skin getting off his motorcycle at the gas station. Why, then, does my father lock the car doors when he sees him?

In college, separate from my family,financial circumstances force me to pursue housing in the “bad” areas of town. By this time I’ve had friends who call those areas home. I’ve driven through them, and I’ve noticed the differences, but I don’t see anything less human about an overturned garbage can, dented mail box, liquor store down the street, or broken-in windows. Looks to me like the people who live there are busy. Looks like they’re doing the best that they can.

I visit the grocery stores in the parts of town that I was socialized to ignore, to consider a blight on our city. I find people working hard. I find extremely helpful Sonic employees. I find adults working twice as hard as I’ve ever worked for half the pay check. There are friendly Kroger greeters, there are busy business owners, there are strung out homeless folks camping by dumpsters. There are people. Flesh and blood, fully human people.

I see it. It doesn’t match up. Then I read Ta-Nehesi Coates’ book; I read his vivid and thorough explanation of The Dream, I imagine him reading the words out loud to me, about me: “I saw mastery communicated to theirs [White children of White parents]”. I was socialized to be a master, but mastery never made any damn sense. The lie of superiority is handed to me, upon my arrival, along with the case for Black dehumanization. I am expected not to question it, to blindly accept belief in my superiority as a part of my White identity.

I am not made for it, though. God made me, and God made all humans. And humans are equally human. No one was made less than. Children are born knowing this, but the history hidden in our cells denies it. White mastery over Black bodies is woven into our bones, it is the foundation of the empire that my people built for themselves. And it is laced with our own destruction. The illusion of mastery destroys us, because it denies the humanity of others, which is connected to our own. Destroying Black bodies is destroying the sacred, communal vessel that humans–regardless of what they look like– share as spiritual beings.

I realize all of this because I am reading literature by Black Abolitionists. Their words of Truth and justice in my mind naturally destroy The Dream within me. They save me. Their voices give me the chance to undo the mirage of mastery that stole me away from Truth, that occupied my mind with lies at such a young age. The injustice in my mind doesn’t stand a chance before the justice of their words (gracious bearers of horrendous truths).

The ones from whom my people took everything pave the way for my full humanity.

Thank you. Thank you, Abolitionists. Thank you, Black thinkers. Black mothers, fathers, grannies, children. Thank you for surviving. Thank you for overcoming. Thank you for not burning my people to the ground like we deserve.  Thank you for setting me free. Thank you for living, for trying to live, and for trying to save your children, despite the oppression. You are mighty oaks, you are relentless, you will live to see a more just world. Thank you for writing. Thank you for your struggle. May you be blessed, may you be free.

 

Let the light in
Keep it shining
Let it break into the darkness
All the love dares us to see
We’ll all be free ~William Matthews

The Light After the Candle is Extinguished

The relationship that I left four months (plus about a week) ago, and events that happened since have truly helped me identify how my values play out in my life. I had read books and taken a quiz about core values, and I thought I was familiar with my own. The first major romantic relationship I had, the difficulties within it, and the subsequent fallout, all helped me see more tangibly the importance of my values, and how they manifest in my life. I also learned oh-so-much about love (but I know for certain there is infinitesimally more that I do not know about it).

The relationship lasted three and a half years in total, and we tried hard to build a life together for one and a half years of that. At least I speak for myself when I say that we tried hard; I like to assume the best, that he tried hard also. Life can jam-pack lessons into short periods of time. That year and a half was a whirlwind of new challenges, ones that I wasn’t ready to face.

The cohabitation hit like a bolt of lightning, and we tried to weld two lives into one with great fervor and hope, but it didn’t work. I can’t say why. Why couldn’t we establish a nourishing home base for both of us? Why couldn’t we find a healthy way to communicate our needs and priorities? Why did our relationship become strained and stuffy and reductive?

Those are treasure chests of information that I can’t yet unlock and absorb. I trust that time will give me the key, and the grace I need to receive the truth. I can, however, now say that I learned some things about myself, big and small.

I learned that I need a place to go to sleep alone at least a few nights out of the week, and I need that not to be taken personally by my partner. I need to know that my boundaries will be respected, and I need to respect the boundaries of my partner, and question my own motives thoroughly when I am inclined to do otherwise.

I learned that a person who triggers me cannot be my confidant, and that I cannot have a partner whose friends are racist. I cannot live with someone who does not practically and theoretically support the flourishing of all human beings, just as they are.

Looking back on the relationship, what irked and depleted me within it, I can identify needs that I have within intimate partnerships. I see now that I need a partner who can listen to and trust the things that I say–even when they have no frame of reference for the depths of my emotional labyrinth. I need this partner to choose me over my family. I need them to be loyal to what we are trying to build together, just as I need them to be wildly independent and committed to building their own selfhood (as I always must be too). I need sexual freedom, and I’d like a partner who knows and respects their needs as well, however out-of-the-box they may be.

Most importantly, I have learned that there are values that shape the practical decisions of my life, regarding which I am not willing to compromise. I have learned that I will create and sustain a life of purpose–because I am incomplete if I do not. I recognize now that the strongest force in me is my undying desire to make the world a better place for all–through those whose lives I can touch. I will choose to love people who are different than me, I will share my resources, my home, my self, and my heart with them, because I see that we aren’t that different, and I know how life can wear on you when others don’t rise up out of their own pain to offer you support.

Through this relationship I learned that love can overcome anything, but when the love is lost, little things become insurmountable. Over the past two years I learned the truth that you can choose a certain someone, really want them, love them with every cell in your bones, long for a life with them from the depths of your soul, and there is still no guarantee that it will work out.

My naivety had me convinced that if I chose someone, and put my all into the relationship, there would be success: a bright future together. I overestimated the power of my choice. I didn’t know that I could choose, I could want, I could pour out my soul, and the candle could go out anyway. I learned that my choice has no bearing on someone else’s. I learned that as powerful as I am, I don’t have power over anyone else, and at the end of the day, I don’t want that power anyway.

I couldn’t manifest what wasn’t meant to be. There can be love, and then that love can be gone. I remember the moment the candle’s wick was cold. Or maybe it was the moment that I realized there just wasn’t a candle anymore. I was standing in our kitchen, and suddenly I lived with a stranger. I looked inward and saw that I had become a stranger to myself. The relationship had led me away from my values, and in that compromise, my selfhood was banished from my own life.

The cold draft of that insight freckled my skin with goose pimples, and I sat down in a kitchen chair so I could think, and make plans to become reacquainted with myself, no matter the cost.

When I realized that the flame was blown out, I knew that more was lost than just a candle (my naivety, for one), but I also knew that some lights cannot be extinguished. Some lights burn low and steady, an unquenchable blaze, ready to fuel the life you are meant to live.

 

Love In & All Around Us

 

I sit and feel the rage — mine, and that which doesn’t belong to me –. the pain of

violence–words and actions–and I notice the yellow sunlight throw itself

against the leaves; complete trust in its’ trajectory.

 

My heart is big enough to swallow the world with every surgical mask, homeless man, and seething crowd in it. Like the feathers of a duck swallow the eggs

beneath her.

 

A duck with a red beak and brown feathers warms that nest of eggs and watches me

warily like she did last spring when

someone else walked by her sacred workplace and the crises on our lips

were not yet anticipated.

 

Crises bubble up, toxic tar ignored past expiration, a message

as blatant as nature’s rhythms:

we are dying

nature keeps living, keeps

 

thrumming her steady bass note:

love woven into the calloused bark,

cutting currents–like whiplashes–down the trunk, telling

us the story of ourselves.

a list of healing things

I’m healing myself, again. It might be

the hundredth time, I’m not sure. Anyway,

I’m keeping a list of what works:

(it’s an odd list, I’ll admit)

 

eating three meals a day–seated, not standing, with good manners and frequent pauses–

using colorful Sharpies to fill blank pages with swirls and triangles

squishy yoga poses that feel so good I want to take a picture of myself in them and send it to someone

water, remembering to drink it (and not just right before bed when it will keep me up all night on trips to the bathroom)

ignoring calls I don’t want to take (actually making the calls I need to, too)

writing letters to people I like and putting stickers on the outside of the envelope

knowing deep down (in my bones) that I am doing what I can to make the world a better place (and thus not feeling compelled to blast my opinion socially on the social medias about the latest injustice committed in the world. The peace that comes as a result of action: that’s enough to allow my silence.)

sex. The kind of sex that doesn’t mean I belong to someone. Actually, they taught me that if I had sex without handing a man the legally binding deed to my belonging (a document drawn up by the father at any woman’s birth, they said), I would be immediately dismembered. I would be irreversibly damaged. Barbarously maimed. Beamed up, Scotty. Something along those lines, they said, is what would have happened, they said, had I have had sex without a husband. They said, with a no-husband, it would have been horrendous, horribly. Suffice it to say that somehow sex is on the list of things that are healing me. (They couldn’t have been more wrong, could they?)

books, quiet indulgent hours with my nose close to the page

walks first thing in the morning to awaken my legs

telling trustworthy friends what I need to tell them, and staying quiet about the things I’m not yet ready to share

practicing the art of to listen to (another person)

listening, also, to the bluejays and insistent sparrows

baths

taking my medicine and talking to my therapist

meditating with my legs hung over the big black cushion that I bought several years ago, which was a time slightly after the time that I last healed myself.

 

Seva Unity Fund

In honor of the four young people who I have mentored for nearly ten years, I have created a Pay Pal money pool into which I will put 10% of the profit that I earn for giving yoga classes. Class attendees are also welcome to donate to the money pool at any time. Two of the young people that I have been mentoring for years are approaching college age. I remember the struggles that I had as a college student with little-to-no family support. Car problems and small expenses could have become major setbacks for me if it weren’t for the community of generous people who surrounded and supported me at that time. Ginger, my employer when I started college, gave me a used laptop that worked until I graduated from college. Lisa let me live with her for an entire semester of college and I stayed (rent-free also) in Kristin’s spare bedroom for almost three full semesters. Not to mention that my (financially stable) parents paid my phone bill throughout that time, despite the status of our broken relationship. The point is, I had a community of privileged people who were the safety net that I couldn’t have graduated college without. 

Not everyone has the luxury of such a community. Very few people are given a free laptop. Many people’s parents cannot afford to keep their grown children on their Verizon Family Plan for four extra years.

Small expenses and inconveniences can become complete roadblocks when a young person doesn’t have financial support to fall back on. It costs over $60 to take the ACT, a price that could keep someone from being able to take it once, much less take it multiple times in an attempt to score high enough to earn an academic scholarship. Good laptops cost $500 or more. That is just a couple of expenses that can make it nearly impossible for young people from low-income homes to get accepted to and find success in college.

Both of the students that I mentor come from single, working parent homes.

They come from homes with multiple siblings.

They are people of color in a racist world.

One of them comes from a family ridden with untreated mental health problems and addiction.

Both of these students have so much to give. I have known them since they were vivacious little kiddos! They have unique talents and ideas, as well as great work ethics.

They deserve the chance to excel in college and not be held back by what should be minor concerns.

The money we are going to start gathering in the Seva Unity Fund will allow me to step in when these two students face a financial setback. It will allow them to take the ACT without being stopped by the cost. Hopefully, it will allow them to purchase functional laptops that they can use throughout their college education (and beyond)!

This fund is Love Yoga’s way of giving back. Seva is the yogic ideal of selfless service. This is our Seva. It will connect the practices that we share every week here in Little Rock to a purpose greater than ourselves. We are beings capable of moving for our own sake and for the sake of others. We practice, we share, we exist as one.

 

Namaste!

 

https://paypal.me/pools/c/8pcxnA9wKp

The Veil & The Edge

There are times when the veil is thin between insanity & wholeness. Sometimes we think that in order to be whole, well, okay, we have to be as far away from insanity as possible. We buy the lie that in order to be anything orderly & good we must be light years away from chaos & evil.

What if we belong to the chaos as much as we belong to the order? What if we are equal parts good & bad? What if that’s okay?

I’ve heard people talk about a veil between themselves and their loved ones. We watch & read countless stories about that veil, that part-way space between here & the mystery of there. When there is a ouija board or tarot cards or a Bible passage or a loved one breathing their last breath, we want to be as close to that space as we can. We lean up against it as though it isn’t the most terrifying place to be. We do that because we are desperate for a connection to what (or who) we believe–what we know-to be on the other side.

There’s another veil, I see it now, shielding me from the brunt of my emotions. Just as death feels to us like swirling, scary chaos, so our bottled emotions can appear threatening. We pull things into the space between us and the feelings we were made to feel because we feel letting the darkness in. We fear the sleepless nights. We fear saying things to our loved ones that we will deeply regret. We fear letting anyone–even ourselves–into the dark abyss of what we feel lurking beneath the surface of our emotional sphere. We fear that we’ll be labeled “crazy”, that we’ll cross a limit where “mentally ill” will be indelibly stamped upon us. We feel we will never come back up for air; that it will be relentless darkness upsurging until we are no more. We fear that our bodies aren’t big enough to hold the pain that laces each wave.

When the emotions are strong I feel that they will overcome me & I will not be okay.

What does it mean to not be okay? Have I ever not been okay? I have felt that I was not okay more times than I can count on two hands, but none of those feelings have been final. None of that chaos has had the last word.

Some of us smoke, drink, binge, overwork, snark, or over-exercise to deflect the cloud of dark emotions that threatens to envelope us. I tend to bring people and situations and feelings into the space between myself and those feelings, rather than allowing myself to be in the present moment, and to feel those feelings I was made to feel.

I deflect and disassociate rather than face them. The fear of darkness is lodged so deep in me that I’d rather abandon myself than face that darkness with a united front.

The work is to face it. The work is to open yourself up, to let it in, to feel it all, though it drive you bonkers. There is a space where all is chaos; you don’t belong to that space, but you sure as hell have the strength to move in & through it. You might be mentally ill because you won’t let yourself feel it deeply enough. Because you’re deeper & stronger than you ever knew.

I have the strength to move in & through it. There is a part of me that says I won’t make it through if I stop disassociating & deflecting and just bow to the chaotic woundedness of my soul. The truth is that every time I have faced it I have made it through, and it has made me better.

Inside of religion we honor the veil. When we face death we honor the veil. Even our superstitions pay homage to the veil between the known and unknown.

Why not also honor it while we live? Why not fiercely move towards it, fully aware of our own indelible ability to overcome whatever we face in life? We have the ability to keep moving, and avoiding the darkness & the message it brings only inhibits the journey that each one of us is on.

What if we feel the most terrible things in the world, and stand strong in their aftermath? What if we let the darkness in as readily as the light? It may make us crazy. It may push us over the edge.

Maybe that’s because we were meant to fly.

Questions Knocking

April starts tomorrow. We’re looking towards it with a sense of foreboding. We feel our questions bubbling up inside of us like we’re a soda can and we’ve been shaken.

We fear we might explode. We feel that every outlet and every coping mechanism that we’ve counted on for years has been taken from us and we understand why, cognitively, but we are asking ourselves: can I be okay without it all?

What if April is an exact replica of the past 17 days? What if we’re stuck here, the virus worsens, I lose my job, or I get evicted because I already lost my job and unemployment is alarmingly high?

What if the economy takes decades to recover? What if my kids don’t return to school for the rest of the academic year? What if I can’t hug my friends until summer?

The questions swell within us, they press in behind every thought and interaction we have with ourselves and each other.

The questions are in us. But they are not us.

Uncertainty is at the door and it is ringing the damn doorbell. We decide on a daily basis whether to open the door or not, and honestly, it’s exhausting either way. We ask ourselves: will I open the door without a bra, without washing my face, without good manners? Or will I put actual clothes on, take a shower, and show up to the door to guard my home from the thoughts that won’t stop knocking?

Damned if I know.

It feels like the walls are closing in on us but the entire universe may actually be opening up within us. We start to notice our little salvations: the cat wedging herself between the blinds and the window. The cherry blossoms winking against the clouded sky. Kisses in the morning and sticky kid hands helping with household tasks. Inner restlessness abating as we sleep through the night for the first time in a long time.

Perhaps we aren’t the questions. Perhaps we’re the bright spring green of leaves where droplets perch regally after a rain. Perhaps we’re the mystery of the sun’s rise and set.

We may just be every breath of stubborn, hopeful resistance that floods our lungs. We are: no matter what is on the other side of that door and no matter how I choose to face it, we can make it through.

The questions are rising in us. But they aren’t us.

Why This Christmas?

 

 

My soul has questions. It came to me like this. I’m fairly certain my soul thinks this whole life thing is an interrogation. I face questions everyday such as: why am I here? What is the purpose of my life? Where can I find meaning? Do humans all find the same meaning in life? Why are we so fractured? 

The list goes on. When I was a child the questions were a crushing weight (no adults seemed to have answers that I could hang my hat on); now, well, we get along better.

I suffered severe depression and anxiety from the latter part of 2016 until the fall of 2019. For those blessed to not have experienced this ailment of soul, body, and mind, allow me to make something inescapably clear: spirituality doesn’t work when you’re depressed. Honestly, the desperate struggle that I made to hold onto my spirituality contributed to my depression (that’s another story). 

My current working theory on this is that (western) spirituality becomes unhelpful when one is depressed because depression disconnects us from our body, and muddles the mind terribly (think slicing pain, forgetfulness, loss of will to live. You’re jealous, I know.). Traditionally in the West we have held our spirituality in the mind and spirit. See how the two don’t jive? Depression=mind muddled, disconnection from body. Western spirituality=lives in the mind and spirit, rather than in the body. See?

Leading up to and during this season of depression (not my first, probably not my last, but, hey, I’m getting good at it!) my faith slowly slipped away. You say Jesus, my mind says “but was he real? And resurrection…really? Even if it did happen, how is that relevant to my inability to get off this couch?” You say mysticism, my spirit says, “I still want to die, and no matter how much you meditate, that feeling won’t go away.” See what I mean? Spirituality just didn’t work for me anymore, so the faith of my mind and spirit, well, it slipped away. 

Not that I didn’t try to hold onto it. Desperately. If I was Jack Dawson and the door under Rose was faith, I was pushing her off to save myself. That’s how fervently I wanted to keep believing. Even if I didn’t go to church. Even if my relationships with practicing (mostly conservative) Christians continued to deteriorate. I wanted Jesus. I wanted the moral code that I had studied and followed for my entire life. I wanted to be able to read Psalm 139 without throwing my Bible against the wall. I wanted the comfort that spiritual songs used to bring me. But I couldn’t do any of it. Trying to was nearly torture. 

My beliefs in Jesus from strong, to non-existent, to a gentle acceptance of it all.

What stopped my clinging to the Christian tradition and finally pushed me over the edge, you ask?

The Christians. The people I would have called my community. The self-proclaimed gate-keepers of the Kingdom (so much for Peter, up there taking heavenly role). People who had seen me energetically greet refugees and immigrants from other countries. People who had funded missions trips I went on and bragged about my service and joy. 

I kept my distance from the entire Christian community during the course of my depression (except for a select few friends who manage to love and respect me despite our differences), not wanting to kick the hornet’s nest. Then, through a series of events involving a roommate (you know how that usually goes, damn it), word got out that I was–gasp–a universalist. 

The Christians couldn’t take it. I was met with, told I was wrong, told I was no longer invited to their community. 

A social media post about my new, more open and inclusive beliefs, that I hadn’t posted with the attention of offending anyone, was met with pages of cruel comments. I was told that I could say blank but I could not say blank. It wouldn’t have hurt, I would have written them off as your run-of-the-mill jerks, if it wasn’t people who had known me for so long. If it wasn’t the same thing that I had grown up hearing. If it wasn’t what my own blood says. 

It hurt. I was done. Christianity could die a cruel death (the tradition has a history with that sort of death anyway). 

That was, until Christmas this year. 

Of course, it wasn’t just Christmas season popping up that helped me find my way back to a loose hold on Jesus. I had remembered, over the past few months, the importance of stopping to smell the roses. I’ve never been a fan of how roses smell, personally, but it’s the concept I am after here: pauses are essential components of mental and emotional health. Pausing to absorb something good all the way into the body is a holy practice. Returning to meditative practices such as reading poetry slowly, taking walks, letting go of fear-driven action, and pausing to look at flowers, trees, my cat, etc. had begun to pull me out of the lingering fog of depression and anxiety (along with good food, deep rest, and frequent exercise) by the time Christmas decor appeared in the Anthropologie window display. 

My relationship with Christmas over the years hasn’t been particularly noteworthy–I don’t watch Lifetime movies and I’ll be fine if I never walk into another Hallmark store. 

As a child, I did love staying up late in my room on Christmas Eve to soak up the soft glow of the Christmas lights hung over my curtains. My family took a yearly trip to visit relatives that left me over-stimulated (I hadn’t yet learned the importance of 10-20 minutes per day with my eyes closed and my legs up the wall to reduce my ever-present anxiety), over fed with rich food that caused me severe stomach aches (gluten intolerance and dairy sensitivity, both unidentified until I was in high school), and uncomfortable (I have needed regular movement since I was a child, and was generally denied it on these trips). 

So, by the time I broke ties with my family when I was 18, I needed a break from Christmas. One year I was suicidal on Christmas and spent the evening in my car listening to beautiful, melancholy songs by one of my favorite bands, Gungor. Later, I spent two years overseas for Christmas (in a country that celebrates the holiday on a far less extravagant scale).

That was my break from Christmas. Last year, I felt pretty meh about it as well. 

This year is different. Oh ho ho, my friend, this year, some magic has infiltrated me. Did you know there are stickers in the shape of glittery gingerbread shaped men at Michael’s? Do you know how delectable the Holiday Spice Yankee Candle smells? Have you felt the utter joy of sitting on a couch in the dark, staring at the lights and ornaments on a two-foot-tall tree with your hand stroking a black cat’s smooth fur? 

I know it isn’t the Christmas things that are making me feel this way. Not entirely, that is. But since I have cultivated that practice again of pausing and absorbing, and probably due to the long break from engaging with Christmas, the Christmas ish is digging its way through sensations in my body, into my soul. The Christmas lights pinned against dark winter nights, the yumminess of Christmas cards, the warmth emitted by Thistle Farms candles, the exchanges of good cheer and song. It’s priceless, and it is bringing my heart, body, and spirit back together as one. 

 Last Sunday at the Unitarian Universalist Church that I semi-regularly attend (per the insistence of my inquisitive soul that relentlessly longs for conversation about all that is impossible to put into words, i.e., spirituality), the Reverend Jan said something that made me catch my breath: “We need not leave behind the stories that hold meaning in our hearts.”

We need not leave behind the stories that hold meaning in our hearts.

Jesus. I need not leave behind Jesus. 

I need not leave behind Christmas–a holiday who is shrouded in painful memories for myself and many people–because it brings light into my dark spaces. I need not leave behind the stories of Jesus, and of unconditional, all-encompassing Divine Love that the Christian tradition handed to me.

Let the bullshit be as it is. Let Jesus be who he has been for you, Lydia. Let the Psalms be what they have been. Leave the rest out of your mind. 

If Christmas can be redeemed and redemptive in my life, than maybe Christianity can too. 

As my favorite Christian author, Sarah Bessey said in her new book, “I pray that you will bless the box you once needed for God and that you will treat it tenderly even as you leave it behind.”

 

There is tons more to this story. Religion and spiritual beliefs are an undeniable, inevitable part of my life (how else could I hold this soul?). I’ve experienced my greatest pain and greatest joy at the hand of religion, of this idea of Jesus, of God. I’ve read books about indigenous sacred beliefs that are arguably more peaceful and inclusive than the Bible. There is the reality that I am a white woman of European descent and I’m not sure about how I feel that my people have hijacked the holy book of the Jews. There’s a lot to this. Clearly. But for now, this is the story of Christmas season for me this year, and a splish of redemption in my story of spiritual exploration

Re-embracing the stories that hold meaning in my heart may be just as sacred and healing of a practice as staring at my Christmas tree and its’ beautiful orbs of light nearly every December evening is. Encountering abysmal darkness on the path of our lives is unavoidable. We may as well allow every light–even that of the smallest or most inexplicable candle–to glimmer over our secret souls. I can let the stories of Jesus, and my memories of Christmas, shape-shift before my eyes. Holding them loosely allows them to breathe, allows them to become relevant to my constantly changing experience.

 

That being said, I’ll leave you with a blessing:

 

May the scent and sensation of Christmas light fill your spirit. And if your spirit is lost to you this Christmas, and you are unable to connect enough with your body to feel the goodness of the Holiday in your bones, because of depression or any other suffering you face, may you experience a breath of relief and a whiff of hope on the heels of this season. 

“There is a light in us that only darkness itself can illuminate. It is the glowing calm that comes over us when we finally surrender to the ultimate truth of creation: that there is a God and we are not it.” ~ Joan Chittister