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I run hot and cold regarding when it comes to taking action. Sometimes I’m impulsive and do what is expedient. Other times I’m paralyzed with fear, ruminating over a myriad of possible outcomes. Presently I am trying to quiet down the brain and let my heart have a bolder voice. I ask, “What is my heart’s desire in this moment?” AND I am trying not to be attached to outcomes.
I do recall a moment or two when my heart’s desires and the actions I took were in accord. It was 2001 when I renovated and restored the church of which I was pastor. My goal was to fix the fabric of a building whose systems and internal structure was falling apart. I also wanted to restore the beauty that had been removed during previous and unfortunate attempts at modernizing a 1920 Bavarian-style stucco structure.
I found an architect with the right temperament for me. As we disassembled the church bit by bit we discovered major systems that needed updating or replacing. It seemed he confronted me with major action decisions every week. I hemmed and hawed at the thought of spending yet another $50,000 on something that no one would actually see. But after sleeping on it I was able to listen to my heart and make the quick decisions that actually saved money in the long run. Within nine months the million dollar renovation was complete.
I just wish I had the same confidence in taking action for myself! Over the last 30 years I had been viewing my life as stuck in a rut, a fait accompli. I felt that diocesan priesthood was truly the “graveyard of talent” and felt increasingly trapped by the routine of parish ministry and denial by diocesan authorities. I experienced a deepening conflict between the life I was handed and the life I wanted. And so I floated along as if in suspended animation. Except for tasks that energized me, such as restoring St. Andrew’s, I began to force meaning and value out of my work. I resented whatever inconvenienced me…hardly a good attitude for one who is supposed to serve.
I left parish ministry three years ago but that didn’t change me internally. I still fought within myself with a cynical spirit and a deadened heart. I didn’t know what to do next. I was totally out of balance due to decision and actions I had taken years ago.
Seeing my desire for an entirely new outlook, James Dickson advised me to master the skill of taking appropriate ACTION. Then I would begin to develop a trust in my skills when my actions brought me towards BALANCE. It meant stopping my thoughts in their tracks and learning to listen to my heart once again.
So what had been keeping me out of balance? What had invited in my saboteurs time and time again? The major inappropriate action I had adopted and nurtured as a child was to objectify people. If someone did not fit into my world view, or if they threatened me in some way I began to look at them as things rather than persons, and I needed to create mental constructs about them to protect me. It was much easier to control them in my mind if they fit into neat little categories and boxes.
The more I boxed in people, the more I also had to justify myself for taking such drastic action. Objectivity became my best friend. I used my 24 years of formal education to find factual evidence whenever I had to justify being right. I further justified my approach by using the Catholic Church’s “objective truths” on which it based its teachings and practices. I viewed myself as a defender of the authentic faith…seeking status and validation.
But being highly empathic I also experienced the discomfort and pain I incited in others, especially those whom I thought I was helping to be more effective members of an ideal church community. No matter how kind or gentle I thought I was I was also being intellectually intimidating. This added to my emotional and spiritual imbalance since I couldn’t figure out how to correct this impression.
I have discounted many of my previous decisions and actions as being suspect, as coming from somewhat dysfunctional and even selfish motives. My new plan is to focus more on “appropriate” than “action.” I will need to double check to determine if I’m objectifying the people I encounter who make me uncomfortable.
All of this has caused me to listen more carefully with my heart to what those close to me are trying to say without filtering it through my defensive brain. It takes a lot of effort and will eventually result in a new balance among my neuropathways and emotional landscape. In the meantime I wait for the next appropriate action to take.
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