Nov 142013

Everybody needs a God. Now, if you’re an atheist and that puts you on edge, read on, ‘cause there’s a place for you in here as well. The first thing we need to do in order to understand this phrase is to deconstruct the word God. Having been a born-again Christian in my youth, deconstructing and reclaiming the word God took a good many years. I had to clean out my resentment for a Supreme Being that I no longer believed in. I had to detach the word God from the White, misogynist, old, white-bearded dude I had in my head. I had to understand that God was just a name and could have a million definitions.  And, just like I distinguish my childhood friend Patricia from the Patricia I met in college, so I had to distinguish a Judeo-Christian God, from My God. One of the definitions of the word God is “the principal object of faith.” Now, “everybody needs a God” makes a bit more sense, because most of us have faith in something. That faith may be Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha, Kali, The Virgin Mother, or it might be our deep faith in science or family. So, to say that we all need a God is to say that we all need faith or something bigger than us. As an interfaith spiritual counselor and therapist, I have seen time and time again that when people lack faith, when they don’t have a belief in something bigger, they struggle. Clinical research backs this up as well; people who have faith in something bigger, regardless of religion, do much better on mental health scores of qualities such as happiness and resiliency.

Making a life holy means that we devote ourselves to God, however we define God. It means that we look at what we have the most faith in – be it family, science, or some version of the Greater Something – and we dedicate our lives to that. It doesn’t mean that we don’t do the mundane tasks of daily living, but we interpret our tasks of daily living within that context. So if your God is family then you gladly take out the trash because it is in service to your family. We can make the mundane sacred by shifting our awareness of the impact of the mundane on what is most sacred to us. To make a life holy is to understand that our behavior, our tasks, and even the minutia of our lives can be more than mundane –  they can all be offerings on the altar of our faith.

Having defined our God (or Gods) in terms of what we have the most faith in, we can then make choices about how we are spending our time and by asking ourselves, “Is this in service to my God?” Is this in service to the thing that is so important and sacred to me? So, maybe an hour of TV relaxes you and lets you wind down so that you more available to you family, but maybe four hours of TV leaves you less available to your little ones who need Mom or Dad’s attention. Or maybe you bitch about your wife, even though your family is your God.

Making your life holy is much simpler than one would think. We simply need to ask ourselves three questions then take action on our responses.

  1. What do I have the most faith in? (Define your God or Gods)
  2. What do I do now that is in service to my God? (Reframing your behavior as an offering)
  3. What is not in service to my God that I need to let go of?  (Aligning your life with your faith)

Living in accordance with our faith is living a life of personal integrity, which makes us more satisfied and content. And, who doesn’t want to be more content?

May our lives be a sacred offering to that which is holy to us. May we hold the awareness that even the mundane can be sacred. May our actions in thought, deed and word, be an offering to the Greater Something.

pic sabrina santa clara lotus hand offering purple

Sabrina Santa Clara ~ Authentic Alchemy x3
Spiritual Counseling ~ Temecula, CA

Aug 132013

Humans need belief systems. They give our world order and structure. It’s not really important what the belief system is, but it is in our nature to need one. That’s just the way human psychology works. My belief system is that everything that comes across my path has the potential to serve my higher good; However, my participation is required for that good to come to fruition.

My move back to California was motivated by a need to be closer to family, and in particular, to help in the care of my mother who is suffering from Alzheimer’s. I suspect that as I return to writing, more of my posts will be about this process. In some ways, it is not the Alzheimer’s that is the important thing here. What’s important is my capacity to love, to be mindful, to sit with difficulty, to be of service, and to surrender to the path that is laid out before me.

This is no small thing as I, by nature, am not a caretaker. I am a lover, a helper, and an educator, but not really a caretaker. It’s part of the reason I chose not to have children. But, as a child of a parent with dementia, I have now become a parent to my parent. None of us can fully plan out our lives. We are given what we are given and there are many unexpected stops along the way. It’s been my experience that those unplanned stops are what make my life interesting and/or make me more fully human.

Today I arrived at my mother’s assisted living home to find she’d been crying for the last four hours. My first response, like any good parent, was to feel very protective and hold them accountable for not calling me sooner. Then I set my anger aside to be what my mother needed me to be – soft and loving.

I entered the room and bent to kiss my mother’s blotchy face. I sat next to her, touched her shoulder with one hand and held the other in mine. I looked directly into her bloodshot and watery eyes and said, “tough morning, huh?” Her face collapsed as she nodded, her eyes hooked on mine. I did not look away but sat present with her suffering. “Are you feeling lonely, mom?” She squeaked out a, “yeah.”  “I’m here now” I said, along with some other soothing comments – along with soothing touch. My mother looked at me with such trust and openness in her rawness. I am unburdened by her need for me to make it better. I know that I cannot fix it all, just as a parent cannot fix the emotional state of a five year-old. But, we hold, soothe, and stay present to ride out the storm. I think of all the times my mother has been there for me in the chaos of my childhood and the emotional wreck I call my 20s. I consider myself fortunate that I have the opportunity to help my mother in her long transition out of this world.

When I told my sister about my mother’s crying and loneliness, my sister said, “yeah, but she refuses to do things with others and just stays in her room,” as if my mother has the capacity to make wise choices at this point. I do not judge my sister. I know she is in pain. I know that it is incredibly difficult to see your own mother’s dramatic change from someone who was once so solid, independent, and rarely cried, into someone who cannot even manage her own hygiene – into someone who easily cries. Watching my own mother suffer is truly one of the most heart-wrenching experiences I’ve known. It is also terrifying to think that one day we may follow our mother in her dementia path. Fear, loss, pain and frustration – these are the difficult emotions that come with caring for a loved-one with Alzheimer’s.

We all have our own tolerance capacity. For my sister, the frustration is more tolerable than sitting into the loss and pain, which are simply too big and overwhelming for her. My nature, on the other hand, is to dive deep. And if I am honest, I have far less tolerance for frustration than I do to sitting present with loss and pain. So my path with my mother is different. I bear her pain with her, and hope that in sharing her pain that her suffering will be diminished. Perhaps it will not, but this is what I know how to do, so this is what I offer.

What is it you have to offer? What is it that you carry that may ease the suffering of another being, even if just for a moment?

Sabrina Santa Clara ~ Authentic Alchemy x3
Spiritual Counseling ~ Temecula, CA

Aug 092013

It has been a month since my last blog and within that time I have packed all my possessions into a cargo van, moved back to California to assist with my ailing mother and moved in with my sister and her family. Instead of a 3-bedroom home, my possessions now occupy one room and ¼ of a garage in about 25 plastic bins. This all started over a year ago when I had this sense that a big change was coming. I didn’t know what it was, I just knew I had to prepare for it, and the largest part of that preparation was letting go of anything that makes my life too complicated, too burdensome, too heavy. I severed friendships that weren’t supportive; I sold or donated about 75% of my possessions; I scanned pictures and documents and tossed the originals.

The questions I have repeatedly asked myself are:

  • When was the last time I used this?
  • Could someone else find this more useful than it is to me?
  • Is this currently still serving me?
  • Does this represent a me that I no longer am?
  • Do I need to own this or can it be borrowed when needed?
  • Do I own this possession, does it own me, or are we in harmony?
  • Is it essential?

What I have discovered is that there is far less I need that I once thought. For example, Why must I have a tea-pot or a rice cooker when I have a pan that can work just as well? Why do I need the sewing machine that I use once a year do mend a seam I can do by hand? Why am I hanging onto clothes that fit me 15 pounds and ten years ago? So I let it all go with a blessing that someone will find it of more use than I.

Like spiritual growth, we often never really arrive at full simplicity. We live in a society that begs for complexity and cultivates a desire for more. Simplification is an ongoing process that often requires tapping into psychological material. Issues of deprivation, greed (which is really just the shadow side of deprivation), fear, status, ego – all show up in the simplification process. Simplification requires a letting go, not just of physical possessions and a way of being in the world, but also it requires letting go of old stories and old ways of relating to our self that limit our connection to our Bigger Self and the Greater Something.

May your life be simple enough to live into the Greater Truths more clearly. May you have what you need and relinquish what no longer serves you.

clip simplify fettered details

Sabrina Santa Clara ~ Authentic Alchemy x3
Spiritual Counseling ~ Temecula, CA