Friday, November 24, 2006

Is Therapy a Bad Word?

Because if it is, you'll be washing out my mouth with soap weekly. I meant to start this post with "My therapist suggested to me this week that I should have a spiritual practice, if I considered myself a spiritual person" (which is sort of an obvious statement, I'll admit--I mean spiritual person = someone who should spend some time being spiritual, right? Like cheerful person = someone who at least some of the time is cheerful), however, then I got all hung up on the fact that I had to then use the word therapist, introducing this whole 'nother element to the self-revelatory aspect of the blog, and all of a sudden I found myself acutely uncomfortable. As if I were now some new, sordid sort of person who "seemed, so normal ya know, but then, like, we found out that, like, she was in therapy (hushed tones)." I thought I was immune to the cultural stigma of admitting that now and then goddammit I'd like someone to talk to about life stuff who isn't involved personally; someone to just listen to me mostly cry and carry on and talk out loud about stuff I'd like to figure out about my life. I'm all for self-awareness, and reflection and crying and carrying on, if it will help you. So why does it feel like a dirty secret? And can I say, in defiance of this nagging feeling that I've suddenly farted at a fancy party, that one of the coolest people I ever met as a kid was my therapist? She was the first adult that ever cursed in my presence, as if it was natural. I was so impressed. Lest you think this was superficial on my part, I should explain. I was in the throes of the classic "everyone at school hates me and I have no friends" middle school experience. I know this is a common one, but if you are in the know on this one you'll also remember how alone you felt, how abandoned, how desperate. And it wasn't just that my therapist cursed--it was that she cursed for me, in favor of me, against those kids who were hurtful and mean, and she meant it. All of a sudden my nagging sense of self-worth and righteousness was invoked, because someone else suggested that it was OK not to care what those kids said and thought. "F*** them," she said to me, and all of a sudden it was OK to be me; maybe it was them who were wrong. That curse was powerful medicine for a twelve year old. (I guess you could insert joke here, about therapists and cursing being linked in my mind...)
It's been almost 15 years since I went for therapy, and that is still a powerful memory. Such a positive one, and yet I find it really hard to type about revisiting therapy, even though the point was to make a leaping off point for a blog about spiritual practice. Hmmph. I guess I'll just figure that squirming is better than silent embarrassment, especially when I can't quite figure out why it should be embarrassing in the first place.
So, is it too late to ask the original question "what the heck is spiritual practice anyway? Does blogging count?" These are mostly rhetorical questions, because I suspect that spiritual practice is whatever you want it to be. For me, blogging isn't it, not really. My spiritual practice involves me without an audience, and it may involve more than one activity, and I definitely don't do it often enough. In fact, my spiritual practice may often involve four feet, a tail and a saddle. What strikes me as odd about this is how easily things that are sometimes spiritual practice are also often not spiritual at all, like the days where I really don't know if I want to go the barn, or the days when I'm frustrated and my horse is being a blinking idiot because he didn't get any turnout and the wind is up his tail wheeee! So how is this spiritual practice? I have often gotten the feeling that people think of intention when they talk about this issue. So if you intend it, and are aware of it, and work on this awareness in a consistent manner, you're doing it. And that makes a certain amount of sense, at least, you've got the practice part down. But maybe the truth is even more depressing; it's really HARD to have a spiritual practice. Hell, it's hard for me to consistently floss, much less schedule time for spirituality. And us non-organized religion types I think get a little nervous about ritual, and kind of hope spirituality is this independent spontaneous type that should just drop in when the mood is right, because it's more genuine, I mean, look, it came for a visit without asking, right? But what if the days that I get all pissed off because my horse is resisting the bit or falling in is also my spiritual practice? And then you wonder: is this bad practice? Like practicing the same mistake over and over in a piano piece? Or, if this is spiritual practice, than what in the world is not spiritual practice? Because I may not be able to draw clear lines, but I'll tell you right now flossing my teeth, in my world, is NOT spiritual practice. Here I think organized religion maybe has one up on us: there's this framework for you, if you so choose to use it (shhh! don't tell them I said that). But no, there I go being all difficult and sarcastic and rejecting that whole pre-made thing, so I've gotta just make this crap up as I go along (Attention, this is sarcasm. Sorry to suggest it's easy--honestly I think despite the organized part, we all still have a heap of trouble trying to figure this kind of stuff out).
I do see this longing in our world for it to be easy, for the struggle to be over. This kind of yoga, that kind of diet, it'll all make sense if I just take Wednesday off for meditation or horseback riding or teeth flossing. And I'm definitely here on the bed with the rest of you, kicking my heels and whining while begrudgingly admitting that I'm not gonna just magically become centered and balanced, or suddenly begin seeing the truth in all things.
You do have to start somewhere, though. I can't just throw up my hands and say to heck with it now. I suspect my true spiritual practice is gonna suck hard sometimes, and involve things that are really hard for me, like being nicer to myself when I screw up, or being good enough rather than the best. I'm not really looking forward to that part of my spiritual practice. Sure, there's still horses in there, and the woods; some poetry and art and good friends, but if it was that easy I'd wouldn't be talking to a therapist, or feeling overwhelmed at work, or writing this blog entry.
I also meant to talk about Thanksgiving, seeing as how it's about focusing on the positive, the things you ARE happy about, and this is something I feel I've been lacking a lot of lately. Despite the fact that I always sort of thought of this holiday as some smarmy day where we say what we're grateful for but then run off and buy crap for Christmas. Poor Thanksgiving--I used to feel sort of patronizing towards you, some stupid holiday that celebrates the sweetness before the massacre of the natives or the mass marketing frenzy--but now it's just sad. The fricking holiday songs were playing before you ever happened. It was Halloweenmas this year. I find myself wanting to resurrect you, and play along with your however brief gratefulness, and be glad of things. So instead of thinking about work tomorrow night, I'm trying to think of gratefulness. I'm grateful for my bed, which will receive me in a few minutes, and for my dear old ferret who is just hanging in there, naked tail and all, and for the boy in the bed who will snuggle up, and the goofy dogs, and the fact that I do get to ride now after 4 long years of horse drought, and for pciking up the drawing charcoal again (I attended my first life drawing session in over 10 years last week), and for therapy and crying and for hot showers and clean socks and good food (sometimes it happens) and good books and for being six months into the internship which means six months to go, and even for painful life lessons that are knocking at my door (I guess). A toast. And happy Thanksgiving.