Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Stress and the Compulsive Carmelite

I've been away from this blog for a while because of several changes in my life. The most important was the decline in my father's health. My father, who suffers from Parkinson's Disease, intermittent dementia and heart problems, has been in the hospital all week and is going into a nursing home tomorrow, which will hopefully be temporary. Hopefully, his condition can be rehabilitated back to his previous level. My week has been rife with anxiety over my father's condition and with family problems causing great stress in general. My relationship with my father has always been the most important relationship in my life. I'm a Daddy's girl. I adore him. Even the thought of his suffering at all stabs me in the heart.

Also, a very good thing happened over the past week. I was able to receive my grant funding in order to further my efforts in publishing and also to produce e-books and apps. At first, I was ecstatic, but then the glow dissolved into the realization that I need to follow my business plan carefully and make meeting my goals happen. New world, new business, new frontier, with expectations. I felt a bit intimidated and anxious, although still confident, overall.

Any student who has taken Psychology 101 knows that significant life events, both good and bad, can be equally stressful. Stress has more to do with life changes in general than with our experience of whether we like them or not. And, changes are a bit harder for people on the autism spectrum. I've had to make a lot of changes to my routines, schedules, and conceptualization of things. Through all this time, I've been told I am handling it all really, really well.

Why? Well, it's not because of coping skills. It's not because I'm doing anything new really. Something natural is happening. Yes, really. I'm truly grateful. For about a couple of months before I first became Catholic, I started praying the Liturgy of the Hours two and three times a day. At the time I started, I was depressed and it WAS a coping skill to pray throughout the day. Now, ten months later, it has become a habit. Shortly after becoming Catholic, I began to seek out novel ways to complicate my life. I tried to do the Sacred Heart Novena nine times a day for nine days. That went so well that after 21 days, I gave up trying to do it at all. I started a checklist of all the various prayer practices I wanted to integrate into my day, and frustrate and berate myself daily and weekly by my inability to reach even 50% of my goals.

At long last, I went to my spiritual director, Father Richard. He explained to me that prayer should be “natural” and “organic.” My first thought was about hippies selling chemical free vegetables. The concept of natural prayer did not compute. Why not? Not trusting myself had a lot to do with it. So, I let go of all but two prayer practices, at Father Richard's request. I started to notice an interesting thing: spontaneous, natural prayer began to happen.

Walking downtown in Eugene presents copius opportunities to pray for people who are homeless and mentally ill. I started to notice praying for them was automatic as soon as I saw them. I started noticing myself automatically praying a lot as I walked around downtown. In a doctor's waiting room, I would become aware I was reciting the Divine Mercy chaplet, just because I was thinking of someone and worrying about their well-being. Prayer just bubbles up from my heart, sometimes at the least likely times.

Secular Carmelites commit to “ponder the law of God day and night.” How does a person make that happen? I think you need to really, really want it to happen. My natural goal is today and every day to glorify God in all I do. I am blessed with unquenching desire for Him. So, I'm learning to trust the rhythms of my heart, allowing myself to pray naturally. Humans were created to praise and serve God, so of course, it should be natural.

So, I have relaxed and I have let go a lot more. I find I'm laughing more. I find I'm frazzled less. I'm naturally praying for Daddy and for the rest of my family around the clock. Instead of worrying, my habit is to pray instead. Am I coping well because prayer is a “coping skill” I am using? I don't really think so. I'm coping well because I am an instrument of prayer God is using. Nothing could be more amazing.

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