it is a difficult path we walk to be sensitive yet resilient to be vulnerable but strong to retain our center in wind waves and fire.
Today’s selection is a collage I made back in the late 1990s. I was visiting my brother’s family and wound up at the dining room table with his kids, who were making collages using stuff they were cutting out of magazines. I thought it might be fun, so I joined in.
Once again I had no plan and no conscious intention when I began, but what emerged felt surprisingly spiritual and archetypal to me. Since then, my friend the solar elephant has spent many a day with me at work, gracing the walls of each gray cubicle that enclosed my mind and body, and reminding me of the transcendent light and wisdom that always lies within, waiting to emerge.
Since I don’t feel much like writing lately, I’ve decided to try throwing some artwork out there. Some of it will be new and some of it will be from years ago.
Art making was extremely important to me when I was a child, but somewhere along the way I got the idea that it was not a worthwhile use of my time and I stopped doing it. I even forgot I’d ever wanted to be an artist until these words came tumbling out of me, quite unexpectedly, in a therapy session yesterday:
“When I was a child, I wanted to be an artist.”
How in the world could I have forgotten something like that? It seems impossible.
Today’s selection is a bit of Xerox art from about 20 years ago. I’d had my palm read by a psychic and he drew all sorts of symbols on my hand with a pen to emphasize what he was seeing. All I can remember now is that the window is supposed to indicate psychic ability and the little fishes are supposed to represent spirituality. The star or asterisk means something as well, but I have no idea what.
Afterward, I asked a friend to take some photos of my hand so I could have a visual record of the reading. At some point I started fooling around with one of the photos on a copy machine and this was the result.
Today’s poem on video is “use everything” from my upcoming book Scapegoat’s Cross: Poems about Finding and Reclaiming the Lost Man Within.
This is one of my personal favorites from the new book and one I like to revisit whenever I feel like life’s getting to be a little too much.
For more poetry on video, visit my YouTube channel at http://www.youtube.com/user/rickbeldenpoet.
We think there is a soul
We don’t know
That soul is hard to find …
- Joe Strummer, “Johnny Appleseed”
In the course of my lifetime, I’ve yet to encounter any external definition of spirituality that is adequate to encompass the depth and breadth, the totality, of my own personal experience. I was raised Catholic, but even as a child, much of what I was being taught conflicted with my own inner sense of what was truly spiritual, ethical, and rational (see “god at eleven” and “standing in line for confession”) and by age fourteen I knew I was done with it.
During my 20s and early 30s, my search for a personal spiritual path led me to read and learn about Zen Buddhism. I gained a lot from exploring and considering that perspective, and in some ways it seemed to suit me, but there was also a certain coldness about it that kept me from moving farther in that direction. It does, however, continue to influence both my thinking and my writing (“arrow”).
During my mid 30s to mid 40s, I explored several aspects of what is commonly referred to as New Age thought, philosophy, and practice. As before, I gained a lot of useful knowledge and experience, but once again it was a period of transition in my thinking rather than a destination. In many ways, my experience with New Age thought and teachings was ultimately very similar to my experience with Catholicism as a child, because once again I found myself expected to accept and believe all sorts of things as a matter of faith that were not consistent with my own sense and personal experience. (An article by Cat Saunders entitled “New Age Fundamentalism” provides an excellent summary of some of the issues I found the most personally problematic.)
Probably my greatest gains from my New Age period resulted from a twice-daily meditation practice that I maintained for over five years. Learning to meditate, the essence of which was learning to be with and observe myself, really elevated my ability to deal with all kinds of difficult feelings and situations, and my meditation experience continues to provide benefits to me daily even though I haven’t meditated regularly for many years.
At this point in my life, I no longer expect to find an externally defined spiritual model that suits my needs, and I’m no longer looking for one, nor do I feel I need one. I have no belief in any deity or deities, and haven’t for a long time, but I’ve always believed and still believe that there is a transcendent aspect (some would call it divinity) in all life. If I believe in anything now, it’s that life is fundamentally mysterious, that the true nature of the human experience is ultimately and innately unknowable, and that any supposedly all-encompassing explanation for it that anyone can offer is bound to come up short.
I continue to have plenty of deep personal spiritual experiences that I think it would be fair to describe as mystical but I tend to approach them on their own terms rather than trying to apply an explanation of someone else’s experience to them. My spirituality may be a “spirituality without gods” but it’s also as deeply authentic and as vibrant as it’s ever been.
However, having said all of that, I do think that there’s a great deal of potential consciousness-transforming power available to us in universal spiritual archetypes; whether one believes in their literal existence or not, these patterns embody and express energies and forces that are ancient and deeply authentic in the human psyche. I would also say that, regardless of our spiritual belief systems as adults, it’s still important to explore and come to terms with whatever religious model(s) we experienced as a child, because the associated symbols and conditioning are such a foundational aspect of the vocabulary and landscape of our psyche. I still have a crucifix on the wall of my bedroom for reasons that have nothing to do with Catholicism at this point in my life and everything to do with remembering and acknowledging various aspects of my personal history as a child. That same symbolism has also expressed itself in the title of my recently-completed second book, Scapegoat’s Cross, which again is not an expression of theology but of metaphor, personal experience, and universal archetype.
Much of my own motivation for developing an approach to spirituality that is true and authentic for me has been rooted in my need to come to terms with the events and environment of my childhood, and how those factors and issues have affected and directed my life as an adult. I think that, in so many ways, healing from abuse and trauma, whatever its source, is about searching for and finding one’s own soul, that psychospiritual whole that is somehow greater than the sum of all of its parts, that mysterious, uniquely personal link to eternity and to our individual and shared humanity.
Finding one’s soul is, in my experience, not a singular, discrete event, but a long process of many iterations that takes place over time. It requires one to learn new skills and to re-examine beliefs, conditioning, and perceptions. It is a process of collecting fragments of the self that were broken off and expelled here and there along the path of years, people, and places, a process of retrieving the lost and unclaimed pieces of who one is, and used to be, that may have become hidden and nearly invisible in the terrain change that comes with time. Finding the soul is about finding and embracing the gain that comes with every loss.
I’ve been helped the most in my own process of finding the soul by therapists and counselors who encouraged and facilitated my innate (but forgotten) ability to access, express, and own my emotional energy, which I learned to control, dismiss, and repress as a child for survival purposes. I’ve attended several men’s therapy groups over the years and grown enormously as a result, not only in terms of my relationship with myself, but also in the depth of my understanding of others. I’ve consciously cultivated a relationship with my inner self by working with my dreams, journaling, giving myself outlets for creative expression, and as I said earlier, learning to meditate.
I’ve also found it extremely important to reconnect and re-establish an ongoing relationship with my own body, which is such a valuable source of information about my feelings, my history, and my present. Bodywork (various forms of therapeutic massage) has been a critical aspect of that process for many years now. I’ve written previously about the importance and the process of listening to and working with the body in a piece called “the body is the gateway”.
I’ve been on this soul finding journey for over twenty years now and I know that I’ve experienced tremendous growth, healing, and regeneration within myself. But I still sometimes feel like a hamster on a wheel because, for reasons I have yet to understand fully, the external circumstances of my life have so far not reflected these very positive inner changes. I still sit in a little gray cubicle five days a week “doing someone else’s work … living someone else’s life” just as I was doing 21 years ago when I first wrote those words. And I still spend most of my days and my hours alone.
This is not what I expected when I began. I really believed that by doing my work, by confronting my past and my issues and becoming a more complete human being, I would transform my life. And it’s true, beyond any doubt, that I’ve transformed my inner life and my relationship with myself in ways too various and profound to describe in a few words. Yet my outer life, the life in which I spend most of my waking hours, remains just as dull, cold, gray, and unfulfilling as it was when I began.
I’m still glad I made the decision to do the work and make healing a priority in my life. I can’t imagine living any other way. But it remains frustrating and incomprehensible to me that I could work through so many of the issues and wounds that seemed to be blocking my progress in life and still see the most significant outer circumstances of my life unchanged. And I wonder, especially now as I’m getting older and facing all the hard realities that come with aging, if my inner and outer realities will remain forever out of sync.
the rammer the fall the voltage our genetic code our technician. the function the knowledge the development the awakening human being of the universe. history justice love god the method the concepts the human alcohol. the animal the uniforms the fact the substance. the good ones the false people the ventilator the safe rotation predetermined by the universe. a fish a whale the surface the circuit the number. the good people the pure the unspiritual instruction. the zombie the jesus the birth of the papa of the sky our new age of the inoperative man. the enormous game the audio one the marks of the attraction. the truth the servant the attention with perspective the instrument of the development the eyes of the humanity. the commerce of god the god of the mind god is the alcohol the scare of the age.
Dr. Phil Tyson, a Manchester UK psychotherapist who specializes in working with men and men’s issues, recently posted his review of my book, Iron Man Family Outing, on his blog, Men’s Well-Being. He concluded his review by saying:
Rick’s work, if it is anything, is transformative. It holds out in optimism that by courageously facing the child we were, we can create a more rewarding future for the adult we want to become.
You can read his full post in its entirety at Men’s Well-Being.
In other “IMFO in the UK” news, another counselor based in the United Kingdom, John Kennett of Kent Counselling for Men, recently added Iron Man Family Outing to his Amazon UK Listmania list “Men, masculinity and maturity”, describing the book as a “raw and powerful means of accessing the inaccessible.”
In response to this recent UK news, a friend remarked to me via email, “I do think it is great that Iron Man is offered for sale in English pounds.” I have to agree.
I’m pleased to announce the completion of the manuscript for my second book. Scapegoat’s Cross: Poems about Finding and Reclaiming the Lost Man Within is both a companion and a follow-up to my first book, Iron Man Family Outing. I’m very proud of this new work and eager to get it out into the world where it may be of use to others.
I’ve posted some preview material on my web site at rickbelden.com/new_book, including an excerpt from the introduction and some of the poems that appear in the book.
I’m also making preview copies of the complete manuscript available to those who’d like an early look. Please see rickbelden.com/new_book for information about getting a preview copy.
I received an announcement yesterday regarding an upcoming 12-week study and process group for men in the Austin area called “BEING MAN: Discovering and Offering Our Masculine Gifts” and was very pleased to discover that the facilitators are planning to use some of the material from my book, Iron Man Family Outing:
The group will do a small amount of reading each week from writings by David Deida, Rick Belden, Chogyam Trungpa and others as a starting point for seeing our full role in the world. These writings have very different takes on the journey, and we will work with their ideas to find our own path.
Click here to read the full announcement about the group.
This group, which will be held at Sol Associates in Austin, looks like it will be a great opportunity for everyone who attends, and I’m honored that some of my work will be included as a resource for the group.
Update (09/04/09): I’ve been informed that the facilitators of this group will also be using material from my new, yet-to-be-published book, Scapegoat’s Cross, in the group. I’m very happy to see this new material being put to such good use so soon.
I’m very pleased that my book, Iron Man Family Outing, has been selected as the Book of the Month for August 2009 on psychotherapist Rebecca Lincoln’s blog, The Mindful Beat. Rebecca features a book each month with a particular theme and this month’s theme is “Conscious Masculinity.”
In her comments about my book, Rebecca said:
What a treat to read such an authentic and heartfelt book. Through the use of poetry Belden tells his story of growing up with an abusive father. Belden allows the reader an insight into his heart and takes us along in his struggles to claim a conscious manhood. If you are looking for pretty poetry, this isn’t the book. This is raw, truthful, and captures both the darkness and the lightness of meeting one’s past. While Iron Man Family Outing may seem to be for men, it helped me as a woman have a better understanding of what men may be going through within themselves.
You can read her full post in its entirety at The Mindful Beat.