Prayer….

img_2460

 

There are a million kinds of prayers.

There are foxhole prayers, “Please get me out of this, don’t let me die.”

There are prayers for others, “Please heal them, make them better, don’t let him die.”

Prayers that bargain, “I swear if you help me now, I’ll never drink again.”

Prayers that supplicate, “Please make me an instrument…..”

Prayers that celebrate, “Thank you for the blessings….”

Since the dawn of time, man has been looking up, and out, and calling upon whatever exists in the stars, the sky – above us – that might be having an effect on us down here,  below.

Reaching out to that “thing” that might possibly be in control.  Of us.  Back then it might have been meteor storms, or lightening, or the phases of the moon.

Today – we are in control of our weather, our environment.   But there are aspects of our lives over which we have not control.

Random acts of Life.

Cancer. Mental Illness. Accidents.  Disease. Addiction. Betrayal. Divorce. Terrorism. Death.

It is then that some of us turn to prayer.

For some of us – this is a way to connect back to the most sacred part of our selves – in order to touch the most sacred part of our consciousness.

I happen to love prayer.  I am not a religious person, not by a long shot.  But I am a spiritual person, and prayer has always resonated with me as a way to connect to that “something“.

When I was young I used to speak to someone upstairs.  That’s how I thought of God back then.  I wasn’t sure what God was, and wasn’t sure how to pray, but knew that prayer was a powerful practice.

Years later – after studying, meditating, engaging in a spiritual practice – prayer has become the most fundamental part of my being and my day.

“The function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.”
Søren Kierkegaard

For Buddhists, there is no differentiation between “us” and the deities. “God” is not out there – he/she is within us. The Higher Power is not outside, but inside.

From the Buddhist standpoint, prayer, like Mindfulness Meditation, is energy.   It creates energy, – it gives out energy – and it receives energy.

Over the years I have come to understand that I am not separate from “God” or whatever I choose to call my Higher Power.  That source is within me.

“Prayer is not asking. Prayer is putting oneself in the hands of God, at His disposition, and listening to His voice in the depth of our hearts.”
Mother Teresa

If meditation is food for our minds, then prayer is food for our soul.

But what if we are Agnostic or Atheist?  Here is a beautiful quote from Ann of Green Gables:

“Why must people kneel down to pray? If I really wanted to pray I’ll tell you what I’d do. I’d go out into a great big field all alone or in the deep, deep woods and I’d look up into the sky—up—up—up—into that lovely blue sky that looks as if there was no end to its blueness. And then I’d just feel a prayer.”

My most profound prayer was the night I admitted to being an alcoholic and needing help.  I was literally clinging to the grass beneath me,  my soul breaking open during a moment of clarity.

Sitting on my haunches, my forehead on the ground, the smell of the earth filling my nostrils, I felt the words formulating in my mind and burst through my lips, now smeared with tears, “Oh, God, please help me, please.”

This wasn’t a foxhole prayer.  This was the  moment of opening myself up to the truth of who I was, and what I was.   In between the tears and the sobs, I heard a still voice speak to me.  I felt an ethereal embrace and began to relax into it.  What happened next is another story for another day – but from that day on, I have known that prayer works.

For me – my experience – prayer is the touching within that is the holiest and most sacred of energies.  I began to read many kinds of prayers, and memorized some others.  I began to write my own prayers.

Prayer has since been the cornerstone of my recovery, but also the foundation of my daily existence.  Prayer got me through Cancer.  Prayer got me through a hurricane in the middle of the Atlantic ocean.  Prayer helped me get through almost losing my husband to an illness.  Prayer helped to center me as I was studying for exams, for licenses.  Prayer got me through the worst days of my life – and prayer helped me to celebrate the happiest days I have ever known.

It’s a big topic – prayer.  Not one I can do justice to here in a blog – or an article – it’s book sized.  And many have written beautiful books on the subject.

But this I know:  Prayers  have been my lifeline to sanity.  They have helped me to center, to become quiet inside – to be still – and listen.  Really listen.  Which is when the quiet voice of that “something” arises, and prayers form on my lips.

I leave you with this prayer….

May we support each other in what we do here,
May we serve each other in our practice,
May our practice inform our daily lives,
And in our daily lives, may we bring grace and mercy to those we meet.

Amen

 

Kimberley L. Berlin, LCSW, CSAC, SAP is an Integrated Addiction Therapist in private practice in Leesburg, Virginia. She is the owner and operator of Compassionate Beginnings, LLC.   Kimberley is currently working on the manuscript “Rising Recovery©.”

 

 

 

 

 

Sitting With The Hats….or How I Learned to Pray.

top-hats-2

 

When I was a little girl, I used to walk to the church on the corner, and sit in the last pew, with the hats. I have no idea what prompted me to do such a thing. One day, I simply stepped out of our house at 62 Cadogan Square in Kensington, London, and went straight to St. Thomas Moore Church.

I don’t remember the day I started doing this, but I do remember that it became a routine of mine that I thoroughly enjoyed. I would hear the bells toll from my bedroom on the upper floor of our townhouse. In my mind the sound did not mark the time, but suggested a calling. “Come here,” it said. I would stop whatever it was I was doing, go down the endless steps of our stairway to the front entry-way and walk purposefully out the front door. I never told my parents “I’m going out” or “I’m going to the church down the street” or any other normal comment a child would make while leaving their house. My father was usually working in his office, and my mother was doing whatever she was doing – and so I simply exited. In those days, a child of seven could do such a thing. The neighborhoods were safe, even in a large city. There was no such thing as security alarms on the doors or windows, and I never remember the front door being locked.

The church was at the end of a typical London square. The central portion was a gated garden where we used to walk the dogs, or where I would play with my friends. It wasn’t unusual for me to go there by myself and wander around the paths that wove in-between flower-beds and lawn areas enjoying my make-believe world of fairies, elves and sprites. On warm days I would spend hours alternating between basking in the sunshine with my dolls or my favorite book, and cooling off in the shade of one of the large and ancient oak trees that dotted the area. Lying on my back I would look up into the branches above and get lost in how they zigged and zagged this way and that, interconnected, yet always separate from one another. I believed that the trees were “alive” in the sense that they knew who sat near them, climbed them, who carved hearts into their skin. There were several hearts with arrows that seemed burned into the bark with age and it seemed to me that giving a tree such scars was an unkind thing to do. Whenever I gazed up I always thought they gazed right back down at me, and that always made me smile in contentedness.

It only took me a matter of minutes to get to the steps of St. Thomas, and amble up to the large red doors. There was a smell that I loved that greeted me the moment I stepped over the threshold. A combination of old stone – dusty, chalky and white – and polished wood that had been rubbed with beeswax – honed to a shine that turned it into a dark reflecting hue.

The last pew of the church was where the gentlemen left their top hats. I’m not sure if they wore them to just any service – probably weddings and funerals. I presume that they were given a ticket of some sort so they could collect their hats upon leaving, and I always wondered why the men didn’t take their hats with them to their seats in front. After all, the women wore ornate and colorful hats which stayed on their heads during services. Nonetheless, the top hats were lined along the last pews on both sides of the aisle, and it was there I would slip in unseen. I would sit perched on the edge of my seat, back straight, eyes forward. I would imagine that the ushers noticed me, and I do remember one incident when an elderly and gravely gray man with a sonorous voice asked me “to whom I belonged.” I probably answered him with a typically proper British reply “I belong to Mr. & Mrs. Osborn sir. My name is Kimberley and I live at number 62.” In accordance with proper etiquette, I would have stood and curtsied. I do not remember anyone ever making inquiries after that. They must have become accustomed to the fixture in the back who came regularly whenever there was a wedding, a funeral, or any high service. She behaved herself, so they weren’t bothered.

What I do remember was the sense of belonging that enveloped me whenever I walked in to St. Thomas. I was safe there, wrapped in the smell of furniture polish, and caressed by the colors of stained glass that fractured the light above me. The hats smelled of silk and sometimes cedar or mothballs – and they were my companions. Although they were black, there were so many shades of black. Some darker than others, some more textured, some more frayed with wear. Some were stained, others it seemed were brand new – I could tell from the high gloss shine of the fabric, the stiff edges, and the fresh smell that exuded from the silk. Sometimes the hats were grey to match the morning coats being worn.

I did not understand one word that came from the mouth of the rector in the front. Nor did I know the hymns that were sung, although I became familiar with the tunes, and then I would hum along. To this day there are some traditional hymns that give me goose bumps whenever I hear them – catapulting me back to those times when the organ would strike the first note and the ceiling would reverberate with a magnificent sound. I stood when everyone stood, sat when they sat. When prayers were said, and the congregation kneeled, I knew to kneel, and said my own quiet prayers.

There was someone very great above, and it was to that greatness that I made myself known. Eyes closed, I engaged in a private conversation with this being. “Excuse me sir, it’s me down here, and I just want you to know that I’m thinking of you. I hope you are thinking of me too.” There would be many times during the course of my life that I would go back to those simple words, connecting to that Power.

The peculiar thing is that my father was an atheist and had no time or patience for God, any Church, or religion. My mother was an intentionally lapsed Catholic who believed that God had turned his back on her. To be raised in this kind of household and yet have a deep an abiding sense of the spiritual at such a young age remains a mystery to me. And to them, I am sure. How or why I was pulled in the direction of the street corner – seemingly without will – has always remained a question mark in my mind. However, it remains the foreshadowing of a life that has always been engaged with the spiritual and a couple of times, serious consideration of giving up the worldly life for a monastic one.

Despite the elegant address of Cadogan Square and the photo-shoots of the similarly beautiful interior for the glossy magazines of the day, the real scene inside Number 62 was dark, and ugly. Fights. Screaming. Police and red lights. Bolted doors and the stinging smell of whiskey from someone who grabbed me out of my bed. Red wrists as I was dragged down the stairs, threats made as I was shoved out a window screaming bloody murder in terror that I was going to be dropped three floors to the concrete below. I was saved by someone, and my memory goes blank about much of what happened after that. Except that one night my father walked out of the house and never came back.

I remember starkly that the day after he left I went down to St. Thomas Moore. There were no bells, no call to service, no beckoning to a congregation. The doors opened with some effort, but made little sound, perhaps a reluctant creaking. I sidled in to the last pew. There were no hats to accompany me on my perch. No usher to cast a careful eye on me. Nothing but emptiness and silence. I remember that more than anything. Yet both reverberated a sound that was deafening to me. My world had just crumbled, and although I did not know the full extent of what had happened, or why, I knew enough that my days of security, safety, and innocence were over. There was a profound fear snaking its way into the pores of my skin, and settling itself inside me, curling up on the cold stone of my new reality. I sat there for a very long time, looking around, having my ritual conversation with the Important Person above. It never occurred to me to go to the ornate front of the church with the glittering objects, ornate crosses, and perfumed flower arrangements. I knew my place, and I knew where safety lay – in the last pew.

I never saw St. Thomas again. My mother and I moved to an apartment in Sloane Square. It was a busy area filled with shops and restaurants. The streets were noisy with traffic and I was admonished about being very careful when crossing the roads. I was to carry a key to the front door at all times as we kept it locked. The door to the building also had locks, and buzzers that sounded rasp and unwelcoming. Instead of a garden square in the middle of the block, there was a park not far away where nannies pushed blue prams and gathered on benches to talk. Walking there wasn’t safe I was told. It would be years before I would live in an area that had a church on the corner.

But I have never seen top hats lined along the last pew again.

 

 

Kimberley L. Berlin, LCSW, CSAC, SAP is an Integrated Addiction Therapist in private practice in Leesburg, Virginia. She is the owner and operator of Compassionate Beginnings, LLC.   Kimberley is currently working on the manuscript “Rising Recovery©.”

The Courage to Change

leap-of-faith

Change does not come easily to us.  In fact, we resist it at every turn.  We become set in our ways, and either we fear a change, or we dig our heels in, not wanting to let go of what we know despite the fact that what we “know” may be unbelievably uncomfortable if not the primary cause of our suffering.

It takes a lot of courage to make a change.  Whether this is a monumental effort or a tiny step, the amount of inner resolve to alter our course in life can be enormous.  Perhaps we want to change a bad habit, or introduce a good one.  Perhaps we have come to realize we need to leave a job, or a relationship.  Or we have come to accept that perhaps those wine-coolers before lunch are starting to be a problem; or the pain medications ran out a long time ago replaced by far more dangerous relief.

The first thing we encounter when presented by the notion of change is resistance.  The defenses we have built around our egos are walls of fear casting shadows of doubt around us.  We may know that our choice is “change or die” but there is almost inevitably something inside that whispers “Die – don’t change!”

According to author Robert Quinn, making a deep change involves “walking naked into the land of uncertainty.”  A powerful statement that speaks of our vulnerability and the potential opportunity to emerge with stability and strength.

From the Buddhist point of view, the practice of meditation and the path of Dharma affords us the opportunity to be on a journey that leads us to becoming who we already are.  It is almost a remembering of what we forgot to remember.  And what we forgot was ourselves.

In the Buddhist practice, we accept the call to change as an encouragement to allow the layers of illusion to fall away.  In the words of Jack Kornfield, “We begin to see that it is often just a matter of remembering and reminding ourselves of the different ways that we are brought to freedom and joy in our own lives.”

Awareness is the first step to change.  And from there, we can examine the nature of what we are holding on to, what we are resisting.  What are we unwilling to relinquish?  What are we afraid will happen? What is giving us pause?

“We begin to see that it is often just a matter of remembering and reminding ourselves of the different ways that we are brought to freedom and joy in our own lives.”  Jack Kornfield

Examining our defenses with self-love and an open heart – not making judgements or berating ourselves – is the process we use to let go what might be holding us back.  When we sit in meditation and allow the thoughts of discomfort to arise, we can look at them objectively and ask ourselves, “Can I see this differently?” and “What is underneath this resistance, and this thought, and this defense?”

Each step leads us closer to the underlying truth of why we might be unwilling to launch ourselves headlong into a change.  Fear is usually the starting point; but what lies under the fear?  And under that?

Each layer revealed helps us to reach the inner truth of our self – a remembering and reminding of the nature of who we are.  In the Buddhist tradition, this is a pure and wonderful self – one that we tend to resist, preferring to believe that we are damaged or somehow flawed.  As Marianne Williamson aptly wrote: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate, our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure”

When we begin to accept that dynamic and beautiful self “beyond measure”, we break down the wall of fear and throw a light on the shadows of our doubts.  That first recognition may bring us to tears – realizing that we have withheld self-love for so long that it wove a tapestry of warped self-views;  but the tears that arise are a cleansing balm that we need to rinse the resistance and open us to that “freedom and joy” we have longed for.

If we are facing a change, whether it is a small step or a perceived walk off a cliff, having faith that the courage is within us to be present to what arises, and to emerge victorious is the victory itself.