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Tag Archives: Catholicism

The Dilemma of Being Human

I am currently reading The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, which is awesome! It’s about this guy who decides to walk several hundred miles to visit an old friend who is dying of cancer because he believes that it will keep her alive. His walk is a form of penance for all of the people he has failed, including himself. To make up for his passivity, he decides to take a leap of faith that he can walk 600 miles in yachting shoes without a cell phone, a map, or a plan, and be redeemed.

I like this book because it explores how loss and grief can change us and our relationships with the people we love. It has always bothered me that someone who had once been so important to us can become someone who we can’t stand the sight of. Even though it’s less romantic, I would prefer to think of love as a weed that sticks around no matter how hard you try to get rid of it rather than some high maintenance flower like a rose that is easy to kill.

I also like the book because I’ve had this fantasy of walking the Camino de Santiago because some Catholics believe it will halve their stay in purgatory. I don’t know if I believe in purgatory, but if it does exist, I would definitely like to shorten my stay there. I can see why a pilgrimage would be therapeutic. It’s like self-therapy with a rigorous physical activity component.

Along the way, Harold meets people who share their own sorrows, which he feels both comforted and burdened by. The other night I read a line in the book that gave me pause: “Harold cold no longer pass a stranger without acknowledging the truth that everyone was the same, and also unique; and this was the dilemma of being human.”

This statement is at the heart of what my blog is about. I have always felt different from others in a way that makes me feel alone in the world. For being Filipino and for not being Filipino enough. For thinking too much and for being too shallow. For not being married, for being divorced, for not having children. For having depression and anxiety. Even without these specific differences to point to, I have felt fundamentally flawed in a way that I can’t quite put into words.

But as I blog about my flaws, I realize that other people feel just like I do–alone in their craziness. The details make us unique, but the pain of feeling separate from others is universal.

So in a way I feel like I am Harold Fry, on my journey to self-acceptance, but with a much less rigorous physical activity component. And as I tell my story, I give others the opportunity to reflect on their own story so that we can share the joy and pain of being human together.

The Dilemma of Being Human

Photo: Maria Roman

Suffering and Compassion

I have a confession to make. I did not go to church yesterday. I don’t really have an excuse, except that I can’t get out of bed unless I absolutely have to because of my sleep problems. And because I rarely go to church. In all honesty, I’m not a very good Catholic (but still a good person–most of the time). But I do try to go on Christmas, Palm Sunday, and Easter, at least. So for my penance, I thought I would write about what Holy Week means to me.

I really like the reading of the Passion. It’s the place where I can relate the most to Jesus because it is where he is the most human. One of my favorite parts is where Jesus is praying in the garden of Gethsemane. My interpretation of his prayer goes something like this: God, I will do this if I have to, but if there’s any way that I don’t have to, please let me know. To me, this shows that even the Son of God was afraid of the suffering that he was about to face, and I find great comfort in that.

I have said a version of this prayer many times. In the last few years I have started asking God what He wants me to do, which is always a little scary. What if it’s something that will be painful? But I figure if God asks you to do something, it’s best to say yes. So my prayer goes something like this: God, if there’s anything that I’m supposed to be doing, let me know, and I’ll do it. But please give me the courage to do it, too. 

The other part I like is where Jesus cries out on the cross, asking God why He has abandoned him. I find comfort in this, too. One of the things that has always been difficult for me to comprehend is how God can allow people to suffer needlessly. I talked about this in my post on God’s Will. But when I think about the Passion, I don’t know where I even got the idea that we are not supposed to suffer. If anything, the life of Christ shows us that no one is immune to suffering. Even if we’re really, really good, it’s still going to happen.

Lately I’ve been talking about empathy as though it were a curse because it’s overwhelming to have to feel other people’s pain all the time. But I know it’s a gift to be able to give someone the experience of knowing how they feel. For me, reading the Passion is a reminder that Jesus is with us in our suffering, because he has suffered, too. Which is literally what compassion is about.

A few years ago my niece was obsessed with Jesus. Even though it was Christmas, she wanted to know more about how Jesus died on the cross. The next year she drew this picture as a Christmas card. I guess for her, the Passion is also the most memorable part of the life of Jesus.

Gratitude

Over the past few weeks I have been praying for a way to take in what I love about Christmas. Singing Christmas songs.  The lights and decorations.  The food.  Having my entire family together. And reflecting on the significance of having our Savior born in the most humble beginnings.

I looked at the news headlines about the homily Pope Francis gave last night, and true to my prediction, it was a message of acceptance and forgiveness.  The quote that stood out to me was the reminder that Jesus was all-powerful but he made himself vulnerable for us.  There is great strength in vulnerability; it is His vulnerability that redeems us.

In this blog I have made myself vulnerable by sharing all of the thoughts and feelings that I usually keep to myself.  After writing my post on forgiveness and reading people’s responses, that was the most vulnerable I have felt thus far.

People who have never been depressed do not realize what a dark place it is to be in.  For example, “normal” people can make themselves happier by practicing gratitude, by reflecting on people who are less fortunate than themselves, by counting their blessings.  The assumption is that sadness and gratitude are mutually exclusive.

When you are depressed, your demons turn this well-meaning advice into further evidence that you are a bad person for being depressed because you are not able to snap out of it, despite all the things you have to be thankful for.  So it is especially difficult to practice gratitude when you are depressed because it often makes you feel worse.

However, my spiritual guru is the Franciscan Priest Richard Rohr, and one of the most helpful things that he emphasizes is that spirituality is not either/or, as we tend to think in Western religions. It is not good or bad, right or wrong.  Spirituality is both/and.  So I can practice gratitude and still be depressed.  They can both be true, and that’s OK.

Today I am already thankful for many things.  I am thankful that the party wasn’t as overwhelming as I feared it would be.  That the homily last night had a message that was meaningful to me.  That I’ve had meaningful conversations with two of my brothers, and in a few hours my other brother and his family will be here.  I am thankful for the friends who have already sent me texts to wish me Merry Christmas.

And I am thankful for this blog.  I think God gave me this blog because He knew that these next few months would be difficult.  So He gave me a way to share my pain, to reach out to others, and to ask for help.  It really is true that making ourselves vulnerable may be the most powerful thing we can do to experience love and connect with other people.  I think that this is what Jesus would want us to experience most of all on His birthday.

So I am thankful to all of you who have taken the time to read my blog on Christmas Day.  And I thank my friend Sharon for giving me the cartoon below.

 

Forgiveness

In Buddhism, one of my favorite meditations is the one on forgiveness.  In this meditation, you reflect on the 3 types of forgiveness:  asking forgiveness from those whom you have hurt, forgiving those who have hurt you, and forgiving yourself for self-harm.

As I mentioned in a previous post, because of my fear of going to hell, I have no problem asking for forgiveness for real and imagined sins.  I also do my best to forgive those who have hurt me because I believe it is a gift to myself to do so.  Sometimes the best I can do is to have the intention to forgive, but in Buddhism that is enough.

From my personal and professional experience, self-forgiveness is often the hardest one to practice. One of my parts is a judge who doles out punishments for non-existent crimes.  This is fairly common for people who struggle with depression and anxiety.

This weekend I had to repeatedly remind myself that it’s not my fault that I’m depressed.  I cannot even articulate what I have done wrong, yet somehow I feel I have failed at something.  I didn’t wake up early enough.  I went to bed too late.  I didn’t make enough of an effort to ask for help.  I am being too needy.  I stayed too long in my previous relationship.  I’m not being forgiving enough or letting go of anger fast enough.

This is how the internal judge is: it can argue both ways, and either way it’s your fault.

I think that one of the reasons that we neglect to practice self-forgiveness is that it’s not emphasized as much as the other two.  For example, in the Our Father, we ask God to forgive us for our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.  I am certain that God would also want us to forgive ourselves, but there’s no line in there explicitly giving us permission to do so.

But I am hopeful that this will change with Pope Francis.  I confess, I have never been excited about a pope before, but I believe that Pope Francis is an enlightened being.  I believe that Mandela was one, as well.  So it’s only fitting that as one enlightened being leaves this world, God gives us another one to maintain equilibrium in the universe.  I am hopeful that we will hear more from him about acceptance and forgiveness and less about judgement and sin.

So take that, Judge!

I picked this doodle because it sort of looks like snow.

Angels

I’ve been thinking about writing a post on angels, but since I’ve been feeling down it didn’t really fit my state of mind.  But then “It’s a Wonderful Life” happened to be on last night, so I took that as a sign that I should go ahead and write the post.

For a long time I wasn’t sure what to believe about God.  I was raised Catholic, but a lot of the beliefs of the Catholic church were not consist with my idea of God.  Although Pope Francis is changing this, to some degree.

I read lots of different books to try to find God.  As I mentioned in a previous post, the books on Near Death Experiences (NDE) were the ones that were the most helpful.  For one thing, they are poorly written.  The authors have clearly never aspired to be writers, and often they didn’t want to write the book at all.  So writing a book about their near death experience didn’t seem like a ploy to get published.

The most convincing of these books was “My Descent into Death,” by Howard Storm, because he went to hell before he went to heaven.  Who would admit to that?  Plus, throughout the book he continued to argue and complain to God and never seemed particularly pious, which made his account seem even more genuine.

Storm dedicates an entire chapter to angels at the end of his book.  I have always liked the idea of angels but did not realize they were so numerous and so involved in our lives.  I thought we might have a guardian angel and that there were a bunch in heaven, singing and rejoicing when we arrived, but that’s about it.

Storm says that angels always want to intervene and help us but aren’t allowed to do so unless God gives them permission.  And when people with NDE’s come back to earth and are depressed about it, usually because they have sustained horrible injuries from their accident that take years to recover from, angels appear to them to give them encouragement.

Even research shows that praying for other people helps.  My theory is that when we pray for someone else, God allows angels to intervene.  So now most of my prayers include angels.  If I’m having a really hard time, I ask God to temporarily send me a few extra angels to get me through. Or if someone I know is suffering, I tell God to send that person one of my angels so they can have extra.

And of course, when UVA is losing, I occasionally resort to prayer and ask God to send an angel to help them win.

The winter is always a hard time for me, because most forms of depression are affected by lack of sunlight.  Plus I am still getting used to being alone and having to be proactive if I want to see anyone, and I don’t have much energy to do so.  And this holiday I don’t have a lot planned to look forward to. Ordinarily, even if I’m feeling depressed, I can still get into Christmas.  But not this year.  I haven’t even bought my gifts yet, and usually I am compulsively early about everything.

But there’s still time, and I’m hopeful that at some point something will kick in and I will be able to embrace the holidays with the enthusiasm that I apply to all of the things I love.  At least that’s what I pray for.

And if you believe in angels, feel free to ask God to send a couple of extras my way.

Photo courtesy of Jennifer Harvey Frye

Yes and No

Being alone isn’t as bad as I thought it would be.  Relationships are an area where I take on challenges without asking myself whether it is worth the effort, so it’s a nice change of pace to have energy to expend on myself. 

When I was in school, the reason why I was a good student is that I did what teachers told me to do.  It never occurred to me that not doing the reading or homework and not studying were an option.  I also try to fulfill my job responsibilities because I’m afraid that if I make one mistake I’ll get fired.  

I think it’s partly due to my Catholic upbringing.  I’m a rule-follower to begin with, but I also fear that if I break the rules I will go to hell.  If I call a ball out, I’m afraid I’ll go to hell because I wanted the point so badly.  So usually I just call everything in, which is sometimes to my advantage because my opponent wasn’t expecting to play a ball that was a foot out.

I used to have this prayer where I would ask God to forgive me for all my sins, intentional and unintentional, because I thought, what if I’ve sinned and I didn’t realize it?  Then I couldn’t ask for forgiveness and I might go to hell.  So I figured this prayer covered all the bases.

Most of my relationships weren’t of my choosing.  If someone liked me, I would date him because I thought that would make him happy.  Feeling ambivalent was not a good enough reason to say no because my feelings didn’t count.  And it’s hard for me to end relationships because I’m not allowed to hurt anyone.  Although I often ended up hurting them, anyway.

This is also the reason I became a psychologist and feel compelled to save the world.  If someone is hurting, then it’s my job to help them if I’m able to do so.  It doesn’t matter if I want to do so, whether I like the person or not, how stressed I am, or how much energy I have to expend.

My superhero family members also share this sentiment, as I mentioned in a previous post.  They are even more extreme in terms of putting other people’s needs first, even if it hurts them.  So I really haven’t had good role models for setting limits.

But thanks to this blog, I’m beginning to set limits.  I’ve quit that crazy writing job where I was spending 10-12 hours on articles that gave the most superficial advice possible for $25.  I ended a relationship and am learning to be alone.  I have narrowed down my extra-curricular activities to tennis, knitting that dress for my niece, and writing/promoting my blog.  Which is still a lot, but it’s an improvement for me.

My new rule is to say yes to what I want and no to what I don’t want.  I said this 3 years ago, but sometimes it takes awhile to do what you know you need to do.  So I’m trying not to beat myself up about that. 

So from now on, it’s yes and no.  Hopefully.