The Pedestal

pedestal

Once I left the convent, I wanted to consider myself normal. I lived in the regular world, had a boyfriend-soon-to-become-husband, a job, and lived a regular house. Everything seemed unremarkable and normal to me. But I was soon to discover I was anything but. My family didn’t want me to be regular. They bristled at the fact that I moved from the convent to a live-in situation with my boyfriend. They were shocked that I’d given up my faith, since my parents and most of my siblings were faithful Catholics. How could I NOT be, when I’d been a nun for so long?

They had put me on a pedestal and then eventually forgotten I was real.

In the meantime, I’d spent too many years breathing the rarified air from the top of a pedestal and found it lonely and uncomfortable. I’d learned to  obey without question and respond immediately to the call of the bell. I became a dutiful nun. A good girl. A saint–a woman worthy of praise.

Having finally rediscovered my humanity, I began listening to my own voice and gradually fell down from the pedestal.

Though I have had to learn to live in its shadow.

The Next Chapter

Nun with Ruler dreamstime_12895823

It’s unbelieveable. At last count, I’ve sold over a hundred copies of my book since publishing it on Amazon in July. I’d never thought much about getting my book out there, simply wanted to finish it. Now, I’ve begun the next one, which will be a continuation of the first–a peek at how it is for a longtime nun to transition from one world to another.

Initially, I hesitated to write another book about me, me, me. The well established convent voices in my head, shook their accusing fingers at me and scolded,

Concentrate on others, dear Sister, and upon God.  Don’t let yourself succumb to your feelings and your own selfish, sinful desires

In spite of the fact that I no longer believe such nonsense, the voices have continued to wheedle at me over the years. At times, when I think I’ve nearly conquered their debilitating words, they return. Or I have my recurring convent nightmare. However, within or without my convent mind, I’ve begun to write again. About what it has been like, to try and leave the convent behind.

Stay tuned.

Rule of Silence

During my early years as a nun, I resented the Rule of Silence that was forced upon us.

Now I often crave the quiet.

I bask in the stillness and seek it out in order to make sense of it all.

From the Parabola magazine:

“As my prayer become more attentive and inward
I had less and less to say.
I finally became completely silent.
I started to listen
– which is even further removed from speaking.
I first thought that praying entailed speaking.
I then learnt that praying is hearing,
not merely being silent.
This is how it is.
To pray does not mean to listen to oneself speaking,
Prayer involves becoming silent,
And being silent,
And waiting until God is heard.”

–Søren Kierkegaard, quoted by Joachim Berendt in “The Third Ear,” translated by Tim Nevill (Shaftsbury, England: Element Books, 1988).

Where’s It Gone?

Where’s it gone?  My self-esteem. Don’t know if it’s because I spent so many years in the habit, humbling myself or if it’s simply because I’m human, but my sense of self-worth fluctuates downward a bit too often. I recently called a halt to my floundering three-year relationship with my significant other and I’ve been scraping bottom more than usual since. Funny thing how I measure my worth through someone else’s eyes–that someone who has rejected me.

Though I tap, use affirmations, read uplifting messages, and meditate daily, I spiral downhill. I rely on the steady encouragement of close friends, and yet still struggle. The face in the mirror looks back at me with sadness, even though I smile. “Oh well”, as Mom used to say “This too shall pass”.

I can only hope.

Today’s thought from the Sedona Journal of Enlightenment provides me with hope:  “Bring your hands to your heart and feel within every cell of your body, ‘I am divine love.’ Can you feel that? Allow every cell in your body to recognize this. From this divine, compassionate action of receiving you already comprehend and trust the gift of you. You are divine love. You are divine. You have always been and will always be.”

Falling

The rain has arrived and so has fall. Along with the leaves,  I’m falling ever so gradually into a new and unfamiliar lifestyle. Living alone. Bit by bit, I’m falling out of loneliness and into being okay by myself. My two cats keep me company and my home is small enough that I don’t feel lost.

Many years ago, I joined a communal life after having lived in a large family with seven other siblings. Then I  lived shoulder-to-shoulder and elbow-to-elbow within a community of nuns for nineteen years. After that, I continued to live with others–in and out of relationships–until now. I only lived alone for a brief time in between two of my relationships.

So it doesn’t feel right.

Friends tell me I should enjoy it, but I don’t.

Of course, being with someone doesn’t mean I was never lonely. I mostly felt alone in the convent, even though surrounded by others. I go into detail about this in my book. Which I’m still presenting to potential publishers. Eventually. By then, maybe I’ll be happy living by myself.

Until then, I continue to sometimes stumble

and fall.

Invisible

sept writing

It’s no wonder I struggle with issues of self-esteem. Until only recently, it had not entered my mind to consider myself a victim. In fact, I pride myself in being strong and resilient at my age. However, I recently stumbled upon some information on the topic of cults and mind control, and saw how applicable it was to my early convent years. During my first five, pre-Vatican II years in the convent, my companions and I were deliberately subjected to a gradual erasure of our individuality. Much like the military, we were broken down and then systematically reformed into more acceptable products.

In short, we were brainwashed.

According to Rick Ross, the founder and executive director of the Rick A. Ross Institute—an expert on cults, controversial groups and movements—there are warning signs of groups and individuals who use such mind control techniques. I recognized each of those listed in an article quoting Rick by Dr. Phil:

  1. 1.Cults enforce a controlled environment: Loved ones are cut off from family,

no communication.

 

In my story, Once Upon a Convent, you will read about how the convent enforced this rule and how it affected me.

  1. In cults, there is a necessity to break down the sense of self—the self-esteem–to literally attack them as individuals on the basis that they are wrong

and that the group is right.

Knowing this has begun to help me “put myself back together” again. My book gives evidence of the erasure of my personal identity.

  1. Instill a new sense of identity: a group identity

that reinforces and outlines the right behavior and the right way of being.

Wearing the habit and following the rules took away who I was as an individual—even as a teen-ager and blossoming young woman. To this day, I feel somewhat lost when I don’t belong to some kind of other-ness—marriage, partnership, or communal endeavor.


  1. Isolate: Cut off from outside world. Fear keeps them trapped

inside the environment of the group.

 

Even without fences, guards, or chains, we were trapped within the remote confines of a rural community, far from old friends, family, and the rest of the world.

The process of writing my story has unearthed the similarity between cults and my convent experience. I understand now, why I sometimes feel invisible. Like I wouldn’t be noticed unless I was gone. In the convent, I remained unseen, unless I allowed the dust in my assigned hallway to accumulate to any measurable degree. I was important in my performance of duty. Had there been no one to dry the pots and pans during my nightly dish duty, someone would have come looking for me. Or had my assigned spot in chapel been unoccupied during prayer, my absence would have been noted. As long as I fit into my prescribed slot in the communal machine, no one gave me a second thought.

Except my parents, who regularly wrote me about how much they missed me. Otherwise, I felt erased. Unimportant. We were taught that invisibility was a noble way for nun to feel. It was an indication that we were advancing toward the state of being without ego—of becoming humble. I quickly mastered the art of melding into the crowd within days of my entrance.

Had our differing attributes been highlighted, we would all have been enriched. Instead, we were individually erased. Expected to regard everyone equally; melt into the background, and act as one.

I still know how to disappear, but it no longer feels right. I remain marginally unsure of myself, and find it difficult to fade out. I still work on accepting myself as a unique individual. On some level, I’m still overcoming a deeply instilled sense of unworthiness.

Though my head definitely knows otherwise.

Sky

Image

Here’s how sky looked like last night after too many rain-soaked days. There was no rainbow, but sky sang her lullaby in similar tones.

I remember rain in the convent.

If I wanted to hear it, I had to climb the stairs all the way to the fifth floor and then take the steps to the attic, where there was nothing but roof between me and the storm. The attic was also a place where I could usually count on being completely alone. A rarity. There, amid the trunks and empty suitcases that stood in neat rows beneath the slanted eaves, I sat and listened. It seemed sacred to me. It’s rhythmic pitter-patter stilled me and was the closest I ever thought I would come to hearing the Voice of God.

 branch

The buds have begun to form on the bush beside our deck

And I render them in soft lavenders and blues,

 as I would like to transform my often harsh, cold thoughts.

Though I work hard at allowing the budding of Divinity within my own stark human self, I forget. I fall back into a habitual, 3-dimensional view of the world. A simple change of focus from worry to gratitude liberates me from this self-imposed prison.

For too many years in habit and veil and from behind convent walls, my individuality was squeezed right out of me.  I  believed myself unworthy.

I continue learning how to open and soften to my own sweet and very deserving self

in spite of being expected to do otherwise.