Sunday, May 18, 2008

Disqualifying the Positive

Years ago, after I left The Way and ended up at Yale Divinity School, I went on a quest to find "My Truth." It was a rather calamitous search because I forgot my flashlight. Instead I brought a pick ax and a saw, determined to unearth and dissect every morsel of reality I could find.

The problem was that after the brainwashing of the cult, I assumed reality must be a pretty grim business – you know, “nasty, brutish and short.” I didn’t dare to look for anything positive because, to my way of thinking, that would be a lie. In other words, if it was to be true, it had to be hard or bad or both.

One might attribute this attitude to my Jewish heritage (no disrespect intended.) I think this tendency to think negatively is all about control. If you’re negative and it comes true, then at least you predicted it – you think you’re in control. If you’re wrong and something good happens, then you don’t mind being out of control because it’s good.

Anyway, my error in “disqualifying the positive” was quite costly to me. I nearly lost my children, not to mention my mind. I was under the mistaken impression that for something to be Real, it had to be negative. Wrong! It’s taken me years to believe that I can be positive and still have both feet on the ground, that I won’t float away to some unseen Oz over the rainbow and be overtaken by the wicked witch. It’s taken me years to accept the good life has to offer. Years!

I could begrudge the time lost in the slough of despond, in my descent into hell. But that’s been very rich ground for my seeds of personal truth to grow. Today I count my seedlings, weeds and flowers and cherish them all. Good and bad. I don’t discount the beauty anymore because I’m no longer afraid that it will be snatched away from me. It’s not only around me. It’s inside of me. I’m positive about this and, finally, I’m not afraid to say it.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Mother's Day/ Mother's Years

I'm sitting here in the library with my twenty-five year old son who is watching the Lakers/Jazz playoffs on the TV. It is something he would do with his father who is a great basketball fan. My daughter was watching it, too when she was here half an hour ago. This is not something I would choose to do in my spare time but it is something I've grown to love and accept - that my children are quite separate and still quite connected to me.

We don't have to love the same things, though we share a history and a present that is hard to match. My son heard the whole book of Genesis during the first month of his life, as I read to him between breast feedings. His younger sister spent the first two weeks of her life in a psych ward (because that's where I was, having just left the cult.) We had many rocky years between then and now, fighting through custody battles and the back and forth between residences. During their early years, I was living at a theologically liberal divinity school; their father remained involved in the fundamentalist cult. My children not only travelled between houses but between worlds.

Now, grown, they are (if I say so myself) extraordinarily open-minded and balanced individuals. They grew up learning to read between the lines and not think in terms of black and white/ all-or-nothing categories. How could they with one foot in their father's world and one foot in mine? Neither their father nor I proved to be "right." The only rightness in either of our parenting was in how we loved our kids.

In my limited view of this life, love seems to be the one thing that overcomes all cognitive distortions - it allows for nuances, for differences and similarities. It doesn't judge. I could wax poetic and quote I Corinthians 13 but I'll let that go for now. The Bible is too confusing when it comes to love; too many fights and wars "in the name of love." Actions are the things that matter. And the actions of my grown children, coming to see me and hanging out, not just today but many days, for many years, remind me of how lucky I am. Years ago, I could never imagine such peace.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

here we go again

so I changed the format again from one of the extraordinary blogspot templates. Easy as one-two-three. I'm just wondering what the fine print says and if I've unwittingly signed up for a secret society that uses the number "897" for a code name. That's another "distortion," I suppose. It's called paranoia. When you think the world is conspiring against you to jam you up, then it's time to stop and take stock. In the cult, EVERYTHING was a conspiracy of the devil and we had to be on high alert ALL THE TIME. (Please note the capital letters used for emphasis. This too is a distortion because even though we believed the milk was contaminated by non-organic substances, we were, in fact, correct. It was.) Sometimes, as Freud said, "a cigar is just a cigar."

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Suffering From Reality

So I’ve been thinking of changing my blog again. I mean the whole thing. I’m bored with it so if I’m bored with it, why shouldn’t everyone else be? It’s gotten too serious – I’ve gotten too serious. I need to lighten up. Maybe throw in some photos of kittens (I don’t own cats) or post a picture of my last trek up Mt. Everest. No, I think the problem is this. My focus has become diffuse – that is to say – I don’t have a particular topic I’m writing on, except REALITY.

Can we narrow that down?

How about to a cult-survivor’s reality?

There are certain ways cult survivors see the world that “Normal” reality-survivors don’t. For instance, I tend to distrust ALL authority figures based on my bad experience in the Way, where the Prophet/Teacher/Doctor didn’t know his @#* from his elbow. Now that’s a distortion because there ARE (a few) authority figures (even in the ministry) who are sincere and upright. My minister happens to be one of them.

Also, as a former cultist, I tend to think that those in authority should be PERFECT or they’re total flops. That’s a cognitive distortion (to use Burns’ term) known as all-or-nothing thinking. Just because my minister happens to have a few flaws, say, he is obese, does not mean he is a bad person. He is actually a very intelligent and kind and thoughtful person.

So I’m back to where I started, kind of. But I think I’m going to change the name to “Suffering from Reality.” Is that too much of a bummer? I want to be bright and cheerful and helpful but even the Buddha’s first noble truth was that “all life is suffering.” To be alive is to suffer. But reality can be tolerable, if not downright fun, if we just know how to detach from our crazy thinking patterns – ie, thinking patterns learned in the cult.

One caveat – you don’t have to have been in a cult to suffer from these cognitive distortions. Everyone’s thinking is warped in some way – otherwise we wouldn’t be the loveable humans that we are. So keep thinking and keep reading and keep suffering from reality. Maybe one of these days, we’ll see that suffering is thriving simply by virtue of staying in the game. You go, girls and boys.