Finding Courage Through Surrender

This post may be a little woo-woo-sounding, but it’s about something I’ve been going through and how I’ve been dealing with it — including looking to God for guidance, and the guidance I received, and where it may take me.

I’ve been struggling with this one class. Of the eight that I’m teaching right now (four college, four ACT prep), there’s just this one that I can’t seem to get into the flow on. It’s one of the ACT prep classes that the district has made mandatory for every kid in certain schools designated “underperforming” (code for all kinds of other adjectives having to do with disparity of resources).  Most of the classes of this type that I’ve taught have been challenging but ultimately rewarding for me as a teacher, and the kids have seemed to get something out of them too.  For this one, though, uh-uh.  Even though individual sessions may go well enough, given that the kids didn’t choose to be in this class and most don’t want to be there, there’s this palpable antagonism coming from the students that goes beyond mere not caring.

I had this group before. I get them for eleven days at a time, not all in a row, and I haven’t been able to shake the role of outsider. They hated the (pre-set) material and I felt like they hated me.  Their classroom teacher didn’t seem to like me, either, and that didn’t help.  She seemed to have sized me up in the beginning and dismissed me as ineffective and not worth her time.  I tried not to take it personally, but it took a lot of emotional energy to keep going in there, to keep smiling, to keep looking for ways to get them engaged.  I rotated out to another class for a while — a great relief — but I knew I would be going back. Man, I sweated it. I seriously did not know how I was going to get through the hour each day, let alone offer the students something that would actually be useful or helpful to them.

But it turned out that this was actually a good place for me to get to.  Because when I realized I was at the very end of my power to get through something that I knew I had to get through, a light finally came on.  If I recognize my powerlessness over life circumstances, I know my only choice is surrender to God.

I was drawn to a little book of daily meditations by Hazelden called In God’s Care for a message from my higher self.  The message was this:

“A consciousness of God releases the greatest power of all.”Science of Mind Magazine  ~~ Just thinking of God as we go into situations we’re uncomfortable with or perhaps even fearful of will relieve our troubled mind and lessen our anxiety.  Carrying God in our thoughts means we don’t have to, for that moment or hour or day, feel alone.  Quite miraculously, we’ll know that God can help us handle what we could not handle alone.  Most of us dwell more on negative thoughts than on thoughts of God.  And our life is far more confused and complicated than it needs to be as a result.  To replace one thought with another is really quite simple.  A quiet reminder to stop negative thinking and remember God is all that’s necessary.  We may have to repeat the process many, many times, but patience brings the result we want.  God will strengthen us and take away our fears if we remember to remember.  ~~ I will keep God in mind today.  I will concentrate on remembering.

Whew!  Yeah.  As soon as I read these words, my heart remembered and knew their truth.  I felt the blessing of them immediately.  So I did this.  I clung to that message as to a lifeline.  The first day that I went back to this class, I concentrated on remembering that just thinking of God would release a new energy into the situation.  When I went into the school, I inwardly spoke God’s name.  In the classroom, during a lull, I tried to turn on my spiritual awareness, to sense God’s presence — and of course the presence was there, as it always is, everywhere. And here’s what God showed me when I tuned in to God’s perspective: the stress, the distrust, the shields, the fear, the worry, the isolation that these students carried.  I felt the atmosphere as one of tension, of deep, deep guardedness. I knew that I could never know what types of circumstances and home lives they had experienced.  And all I could feel toward them was compassion.

And toward the teacher, I simply felt friendliness, a new openness that surprised me, that came to me without my trying.  If there had previously been a power struggle, my end of it dissolved.  I felt no hesitation about going up to her at every opportunity and asking her for suggestions, or what she did in her own classes.  I couldn’t make her like me, but I could send the message that I liked her, respected her, and wanted to work together.  After this, the vibe definitely shifted.

Since then, I have relied on God to get me through each class. I’ve been giving it everything I’ve got in terms of teaching ideas — there’s pretty much nothing I won’t try at this point to make the class worthwhile for the students.  But at the same time, I’ve surrendered the outcome and my own will and effort to the power of God — and I’ve needed to, because finding the courage to face it continues to be a daily challenge.

Yesterday, I was still having a tough time.  As I walked into the school, I imagined God walking with me, throwing an arm around my shoulder, encouraging me.  I got through the class; the activity I’d come up with was semi-successful (which is really saying a lot, compared to past experiences!).  And as I left the class and headed out of the building, I found myself still connecting to that feeling that God was right there with me.

God as I meet God through recovery literature is a lot like God as I meet God in the Baptist church: Real. Personal. Walking beside me. Speaking in direct and unmistakeable words, right into my heart. The Infinite One who still has both the time and desire to talk to me, the lowly straggler. I guess that must be part of the Infinity. This is the expression of God that I can have a conversation with, the one that will give me guidance, straight up.

So I asked:

Am I doing all right?

God answered:

You are doing fine, kiddo. That feeling of security and warmth that lets me know when I’m hearing Spirit’s word welled up under my rib cage.

I asked: Am I doing what you want me to be doing?

The answer came instantly: Honey, I don’t want you to have to be working so hard.

I felt the beginnings of tears as I climbed the long hallway ramp, heading out of the building.  My current seven-days-a-week teaching schedule has been taking a toll, and I’ve been feeling depleted of emotional energy.

I asked: What can I do to change this? I’ve been so stuck in this rut, working so hard and not making a living wage.

God answered, gently but firmly: You need to respect yourself. All the guidance about publishing your work is part of this.

Me: (Silence; reflection.  It’s been an ongoing crisis all spring.  I’ve been doing a daily practice to “remove obstacles” between me and the sustainable and creative work life that I want to manifest.  The practice had led me strongly toward writing.)

God: And when you learn to respect and value yourself and the unique gifts I gave you, I will place you where I want you. Don’t worry about figuring out the “right” job to pursue. I’ll put you there when you have learned this lesson.

As I passed through the door and walked to my car, I noticed the warming, fresh-smelling spring air.  I reached up to touch a branch of one of the gorgeous, thick-trunked pine trees that ring the school grounds. God will place me where God wants me, eh?  I felt a smile begin in my heart and extend across my whole body.

I know I don’t respect and value myself as God does, or as God wants me to.  And sometimes I don’t believe I’ll ever be able to.  But I’ve grown in this area, certainly, over the past many years.  It’s one of my life lessons.  In my family, it’s transgenerational.  Part of the purpose of my life is to heal this wound of self-unlove that has stretched so deep and wide.  This conversation with God made me feel like I had the inner permission to take another step, or more, into self-value, which would really be a step of greater closeness to God.



I had just finished the hands-on portion of an interview to do fill-in work as a massage therapist at a local spa. The manager was telling me …

“You have very good techniques and you obviously know where the muscles and attachments are. But I can’t hire you, because there’s something crucial missing — the intuition about how a massage should flow, when you can touch a body and instantly know what it needs. I suggest you set up a table in a coffee shop and work on as many bodies as you can, and it will come. It has to come from deep in your heart.”

I was shocked at first to hear her say this. I’m not inexperienced; I’ve done massage in a city clinic and a super swanky resort spa and various places in between. I’ve often been complimented on how I can touch a body and know exactly what it needs. How was this woman not picking up on that??? But by the time she came to that last bit, about it coming from deep in the heart — I was actually smiling. Because I knew what she was talking about. Although she didn’t quite get the reason, she did sense the truth: it wasn’t coming from deep in my heart, and if I was honest, I already knew that.

Of course, it was still a blow to my ego. Part of me just wanted to give her the finger. And then go home and cry. That same part wanted to say (maybe in a follow up email), “Look, lady, you’re on crack. I’ve worked at way fancier, way more reputable spas than this old joint, and everyone loved my massages and loved ME. And PS, your advertising is racist. If you didn’t feel my heart, it’s because I don’t want to work here anyway!” Etc.

But that wouldn’t be true — at least not the part about how I’m awesome and she was just too much on crack to realize it. She was totally right that I was, on some level, checked out, and it wasn’t just because of my ambivalence about this spa. I wanted the job for various reasons, mainly that it was close to my home and I need the money. But in my heart, I don’t really want to do massage as a job anymore. For a few people whom I care about, yes, but I think I am done pursuing it actively, at least at this time. Writing it publicly like this makes me go “eek!” inside, and brings up a ton of fear and shame and self doubt. But as I shared in Sam’s Phoenix Rising group in December, my heart and soul are yearning for consolidation. I don’t want to split my attention between two totally separate careers anymore. I want to teach full time. I want it with a passion.

The funny thing was that right before I walked out the door for the interview, I drew a card from the angel box and the card I got was the Angel of Miracles. I certainly had an idea about what that meant when I left the house — and a very different idea when I got back. I thought, maybe the miracle is that my soul truth made itself known in a way that saved me from a job that would have drained my energy away from following my true dream. Or maybe the miracle is that I saw it that way.

I am humbled but grateful.


The Fear of God

I’ve started in a book group that’s reading Caroline Myss’ book Entering the Castle — it’s based mainly on the writings of St. Teresa of Avila (along with drawing on other mystics in other religious traditions).  The idea of the book is to teach readers how to follow the mystic’s path while living in the modern world — to become “mystics without monasteries,” as she puts it — ultimately to arrive at the mystic’s true goal, the life lived in identification with the divine soul.  Which is, in essence, union with God.

You know, within the last couple of months I committed myself, with witnesses, to a path of mysticism and a path of ministry.  I did these things because I felt a strong inner call, and praying about it, I felt I received clear and abundant signs that it was the right thing to do.  I can admit now that I did not make these commitments with a full understanding of what they would demand of me.  I also felt I could not choose otherwise.  It was not a question of logical consideration.  In fact I find it really hard to explain the reasons why I chose these commitments, and so I am more comfortable keeping them to myself. 

I agreed to marry my partner after only two and a half weeks of dating for similar non-reasons — realizing well into the journey that my commitment to this union would really require of me that I grow a lot, that I face my own buried dysfunction, that I learn to think less of my small self, to become more selfless.  And to be extremely flexible.

So now that I have been a spiritual bride and taken new vows, first of all, I find all my shit getting stirred up — all that stuff that keeps me from truly being available for service.  In the last few weeks I’ve had some really painful experiences of struggling with lack of forgiveness (for myself, others, situations…).  Another area that’s been triggered is my old social anxiety, feeling ill at ease and self-conscious in social situations, like I’m always making the wrong move.  And of course, writing all this and recalling the ways I have been chastising myself reminds me that self-acceptance remains one of the big areas where I still have a lot to learn.

In the midst of all this, Caroline Myss’ book comes along.  I find as I begin to read it that the promises of the introductory chapters comfort me in some deep way — they seem to hold out hope to my soul that there is direction and guidance available — that there is peace that can be found — indeed, by following a path the entry gate of which I’ve already passed through. 

They also kinda scare the crap out of me. 

I realize that I actually am not a little afraid of going down that path.  I’m a little scared of the journey in and of itself.  What will it reveal to me about myself that is not acceptable to God?  What will it insist that I do?  What will it force me to give up?  Will I feel those things as difficult or painful, or will they simply arise in their proper time as natural next steps, easy and joyful to take? 

How will following this path change me? …  I notice that this human life of mine, with its aesthetic arrangement of material comforts, its intellectual pursuits, and its interpersonal relationships organized into the predominating social structures of the day … this small life of mine, put together with so much energy and attention … it’s compelling, it distracts me away from the spiritual path.  It pretends to be in competition.  My small self reads of the union of the soul with God through the effacement of the ego, and thinks of its comfortable apartment life, and thinks that that would be painful to sacrifice, it would be hard to let go, and my small self is unsure that the metaphysical rewards will be worth the discomfort of growth and change.

I wonder now if this is what The Lord of the Ringsis really about.  I’ve been re-reading the series this summer — I read it all the way through several times as a teenager, but haven’t looked at it for a long time, and I just got the urge to revisit it and see what my current self makes of it.  I was curious to see if I would find its meanings and lessons changed as I read them from a new vantage point in life.  So now I’m thinking about Frodo’s journey as a nice metaphor for the journey of the soul.  (I know lots of people have suggested religious interpretations of the series before — I’m not arguing for a critical interpretation — just saying that as another version of the archetypal story of the Hero’s Journey, as a story, it can help us understand that othet heroic journey that is inward, toward the divine spark within.)  Frodo signed on for a dangerous journey into a completely unknown wild, answering, when called, from his heart, not his head.  He took it on for the good of all — surrendering his own will and accepting that his death was likely with deep courage and faith.  There was something in him that was unwavering — that, when he was surrounded by total darkness, and all of his hope was gone, that nonetheless continued putting one foot in front of the other, until there was nowhere further to go.  And when he got there it turned out that the goal could not be accomplished by his own power at all, but only through the intervention of a power greater than himself — what might have been called, in the context of the story, destiny.

I don’t think, here in the West, that we really understand the meaning of destiny anymore.  It’s only through reading the works of Indian and Middle Eastern writers that it’s even beginning to dawn on me that there is a big gap there in my (and our) cultural understanding.  But there is something about both the way I met and married my partner and the way I came to the spiritual path I’m embarking upon today that has a feel of destiny.  What that means to me is that I have a feeling that there is some purpose in these meetings, that some piece of some plan is clicking into place, that, to put it simply, some good will come of it.  At these times I’ve felt the elusive edge of a sense that all our souls are part of a great … perfection, an extremely complex and delicately balanced story that is unfolding exactly as it should, the only way it ever could, toward our evolution, toward our highest good.

This barely-touched sense of rightness, totally inexplicable though it may be, still gives me enough willingness, courage, and excitement to put one foot in front of the other down the path into the utter mystery. 

Thanks to you for allowing me to share this with you.

Love and blessings,

Heartland Soul

Don’t Worry!

I just drew this angel card:


“What appears to be a problem is actually part of your answered prayer.  You’ll understand the reasons behind your present situation as everything resolves.  Trust in heaven’s protection and infinite wisdom to answer your prayer in the best way.”

This was in response to a request for information about the overall lesson I’m supposed to be working on through all of this upheaval, the bigger picture.  Oh, those angels.

I must believe this on some level, because I say it all the time, and it comes out easily, like something I believe.  I especially say it in regard to my spouse’s future.  I know it will come out all right — I know his star is headed up — that he’s moving on to something that’s a better match for him (though I don’t know what that may be).  I noticed I don’t say it as much in reference to myself, my own future.  A major era is coming to an end for me in ways that are totally unrelated to Hawk’s job.  It’s time for me to be moving from “student” to “professional” as I finish grad school and massage school within the next month.  I’ve been freaking out for the last couple of days about all the change … worrying. 

I think some of what I’m experiencing is just natural grief as some important things pass out of my life — a part of life’s cycles, the dying of each moment into the next.  And another big part of what’s been getting me down is worry, the irritation and distress at not knowing what’s coming next, not being able to control or predict it, not knowing what to do in the meantime to ensure a positive outcome.  Being afraid that whatever happens it’s going to be painful for me and there’s not going to be much reward at the end of it.  I.e., experiencing (unnecessarily) the imagined painfulness before it happens — if it’s even destined to happen at all.

Friday I had a whole mini-lesson on this very topic.  I say “mini” because it was only one day compared to the months-long transitional period we’re in, but it made a dramatic impression on me (and it did seem to go on for the entire day, repeating the theme across multiple contexts).  This was a day I’d been planning for the past week — a “fun day” in St. Louis.  Hawk was going to drive out to meet me in the middle of a weekend I’d be spending there for school; we’d use some free movie tickets I’d acquired to go see the new Star Trek movie, spend the night at my friend’s and generally make a day of it.  A city date.  And, I thought, we really MUST go to the Botanical Gardens in St. Louis — we definitely had to before leaving the state, and this would be one of the best times of year to see it, early May.  So I planned this whole day around us going to the gardens, searching online for places to eat, routes to different movie theaters, gay places in the same area to go dancing after the movie.  It was an elaborate itinerary and it kicked off with the Gardens and so damn it, we must have a good start!  Everything must go well!  With all the stress we’d been under (individually and as a couple), I thought, we really needed  this day of fun.

(I hope that from my exclamation points, capitals, and italics you can gather a sense of the pressure I put on myself about this day.)

Hawk was supposed to meet me at one, after my anatomy class let out.  This class begins at 9 a.m.  For at least five hours straight, I kid you not, from the time I woke up in the morning until fifteen minutes after one p.m. it poured down rain in a five-hour thunderstorm.  It thundered and lightninged the whole time.  The sky was dark gray and the rain was pounding on the patio roof.  I was sitting there for the entire class thinking, F, f, f!  How can we possibly go to the Botanical Gardens in this?  The whole day is going to be RUINED!!!

Well, I reluctantly patched together some backup plans.  Someone told me we could still go to the Climatron (I was bemoaning this situation to several of my classmates who knew the city better).  I was like, Yeah, okay, sure.  We’ll do that and it will be okay.  It’s sure not May flowers, though.

Well, at 1:10 I was waiting for Hawk to show up.  (It’s a two-hour drive from Columbia and he’d gotten a late start.)  I had to stand behind the door of my school and look out because the rain was blowing so hard horizontally into the porch. 

At 1:13 it seemed like the rain might be letting up enough to actually go out to my truck without getting totally soaked.

At 1:15 the rain stopped entirely.

By about 1:30 it was completely sunny with a few fluffy white clouds, seventy degrees, with a cool, gentle post-shower breeze.


We had a fantastic time at the Botanical Gardens.  It really was awesome — with all kinds of spring flowers in bloom.  And we had a very fun time together.  And it wasn’t hard for me to get the point of this story (you might say it was like a blinding ray of light):  When you (I said to myself) are sitting there wrinnging your hands and saying Oh no, oh no, this is going to be bad, stop worrying!  The very outcome you have been hoping for might be just about to explode into being — even when NO signs suggest it could even be possible.  That’s the way Spirit works, that’s the way miracles work.

And I don’t want to take away the message that I am always going to get exactly what I want, that things will always turn out exactly like I plan them, regardless of the weather at any given moment.  It’s more that — I’m to be reassured that things will be all right.  That something even better than I can imagine is coming.  And that worrying about what the future’s going to bring in the way of badness is not only unhelpful — it’s frequently irrelevant. 

So — yeah.  You can call me on this.  Cause I don’t have it down yet.

Peace to all,




Last weekend, my kirtan-leading friend invited me out to her place to join her for a fire ceremony on the morning after the New Moon — a time, traditionally, favorable to new beginnings.  It was cool.  This time she gave me a booklet so I could chant along with her toward the end.  That’s my favorite part, of course. 

Around the middle of the ceremony we were singing “Om Namah Shivaya,” and she casually mentioned that chanting Om Namah Shivaya would be a good practice for me this month.  I was like, Hm.  Interesting.  She knew a tiny bit about my partner’s job, just that something stressful was going on.  I was certainly thinking about it that morning, and really looking for signs, guidance about what to do, how to be, when I was feeling like I was about to fall apart.  So I took the suggestion to heart.

She also said something about her practice of doing the  fire ceremony on the full moon — that it didn’t matter what the practice was, it was just making the commitment to do something with a certain specific regularity.  So since then, I have been thinking about committing to chant Om Namah Shivaya a certain number of times every day for a month.  (Apparently the standard number of times is 108; I just looked it up.)  So, no more half-assing.  I hereby commit to chanting Om Namah Shivaya 108 times each day for the next 31 days.  Anyway, I have been doing it a little each day, when I thought about it; and so I was also wondering as I did it, Why this?  My friend quoted Babaji as saying that the power of Om Namah Shivaya could stop an atomic bomb.  But I thought there must be some reason why this suggestion had come to me, something about Shiva that I needed to learn.

Well, tonight Hawk went to bed before me so on a whim I got out a copy of Toward the One (a Sufi journal) that I’ve been working on reading since last October.  I opened it up to a random page, and what did I find?  That’s right, a whole 17-page article about the various aspects and qualities of Shiva!  Aw yeah!  Okay, I get excited about synchronicity.

Then, of course, the first quote at the top of the first page explained a great deal.  I’d had the vague idea that Shiva was some sort of god of destruction (my impression was, the breaking down of the old and dead to make space for the new and lively).  This quote said, “All pain is significant of change; all that changes for better or worse must cause a certain amount of pain, for change is at once birth and death.”  Wow, man, that knocked my socks off.

The pain of change is exactly what’s been getting me down, on all sorts of levels at once, conscious and unconscious, big and small.  Hawk’s firing and the uncertainty it throws us into about where and how we’re going to live after this summer has definitely been rattling my sense of security, my general orientation in the world.  It’s made me feel very powerless, out of control (in good ways, I guess, for my personal growth, but it has NOT been fun); like I’m waiting to find out what aspects of my life I’m going to lose, what I’m going to have to replace.  I’ve been on the pessimistic side a bit.  I have not been graceful about surrendering control (or the illusion of control that I cling to foolishly).  I haven’t been open to the cycle of change/pain/birth/death, the endless destruction and regeneration of life. 

But it’s not just that situation; I think there’s also an element of this panic of change hanging around my thoughts of finishing massage school at the end of May, and defending my dissertation (if all goes well) in June.  I’m a little freaked about what I’m going to do when those two events are over.  It’s pretty much a blank after that. 

I guess part of the message is that I can’t let myself get psyched out by this stuff.  According to the article I’m reading, Shiva’s devotees have the practice of “acting contrary to their nature for the purpose of acquiring mastery over themselves,” and thus experiencing the liberation of their souls.  Acting contrary to my nature, in this case, would be gracefully surrendering to the flow of life, not resisting, and thus not causing myself needless pain.  “Shiva the liberator,” the author continues, “is often represented as an archer” whose arrows frighten awake “those who feel comfortable in their peaceful and superficially virtuous life” (Nirtan Ekaterina Pasnak 53-54).  But Shiva is also described as extremely compassionate, repeatedly taking on harm or pain to himself to spare humans or gods from suffering (55). 

Compassion in gods of destruction is comforting to me.  It reassures me that whatever the outcome, there’s really no way for me to do it “wrong.”  Having the intention to let my higher self take the reins as much as possible in my life right now couldn’t hurt.  But when I am feeling like a big screw-up, it’s nice to know a god is not there to judge me or rate me, but merely to assist me.  And then I do feel supported and guided.  I start acting a little nicer to myself.  I repeat to myself, I surrender.  I tell myself slogans — Let Go and Let God.  And maybe, a little bit, I start to really release and relax, to ease up on the death grip I try to put on life.  Then, a little bit at a time, spaces open up where miracles can enter in.

Peace and love to all,