A Carmelite Soul

Tomorrow my stay in a Carmelite convent for this week comes to a close.  In some ways these few days have been an abbreviated version of my five years living as a Carmelite. First, something of Carmel.

Carmel is a desert landscape, yet a desert that blossoms.

Carmel is a mountain to be climbed, yet full of ravines, crevices, overhanging rock. The path is never straight, and rarely can you see the summit. For those who do reach it, the vista (I am told) surpasses all words.

Carmel is of Elijah, that fiery prophet, yet who prayed for G-d to end his life. Instead he woke up the next morning, and the ravens came to feed him, ready for his journey to Horeb. Being a fiery soul, he waited for G-d to come in the dramatic natural events. Instead He came in a whisper, that still, small voice. Carmelites of today trace their spiritual origin to him. I chose the reading of this event in his life for my first profession.

Teresa of Avila followed in the uncompromising footsteps of Elijah. In the times of the inquisition (1500s), she dared teach that women were perfectly capable of mental prayer, capable of a personal relationship with God. A heretic of her times. She reformed the Carmelite nuns. She also had the audacity to take Jesus to task, saying that she was not surprised he had so few friends when he treated them so badly. Somehow she escaped punishment in prison, escaped the inquisitors. She had no time for gloomy saints. Quite a character.

John of the Cross, who reformed the friars, was less lucky – except it was his own friars who beat him up for asking so much of them. He escaped, and his escape gave rise to some of his greatest spiritual poetry. He it is who wrote of the Dark Night of the Soul. An image which continues to speak deeply to me.

So Carmel is uncompromising. It asks everything, because God asks everything. Therein lies the paradox. We can only give ourselves (to anyone) if we first possess ourselves. We cannot give what we do not own. If we do not own all the mucky bits, the dissociated fragments, we can only give a part of ourselves.

Another paradox: Carmel is both utterly safe and utterly terrifying to be in, whether literally or figuratively. Tomorrow I must leave here, traverse 2.5 hours of holiday traffic to get home. I am screaming inside: because leaving Carmel 25 years ago was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life – along with living as a Carmelite for 5 years. Why? Because Carmel is a place which tears down every last fibre of false or incomplete self. It asks everything. There is truly nowhere to hide from that abiding Presence. Yet it is also utterly safe to be stripped spiritually naked here.

Prayer is complex for me. I am a spiritual wanderer, meandering down various spiritual paths. Yet yesterday and today I decided to take every one of the inner child parts of me which are slowly coming out of hiding and present them to Jesus – the image of him welcoming little children prompted that. They were two terrifying prayer times – yet it also felt completely safe to do that.

In Carmel all those years ago my sisters saw all the triggered parts of me in action, I suspect. Somehow I was still loved. I know I was very challenging to live with at times, especially for my fellow novices…

Tomorrow I must leave….Then I remember the note that the lay extern (outside the enclosure) passed in to me the night before I left, in which she said ‘you can take the girl out of Carmel, but you cant take Carmel out of the girl’. I guess that is still true, 25 years later, although generally expressed in more diverse ways. The language of the desert, the dark night, Presence in Silence, still speaks so deeply to me.

Life remains a desert. Life remains the challenge of climbing that mountain, falling down crevices, navigating overhangs. Somehow all this happens without crampons either. I guess I will just keep climbing (I hate heights and climbing…), with a Presence who is beyond all names, indeed is unnameable, but who reveals themselves in different, ever unexpected ways.

 

 

Prayer and Dissociation

Repeated early trauma will frequently lead to dissociation, a separation of the self from the body in order to survive the reality of what the body is being subjected to. Structural Dissociation in some degree may occur (for more on this, I found http://www.complex-trauma.eu/?p=307 to be of great help).

In indigenous shamanic cultures dissociation is seen as soul loss, where a part of the soul takes flight. This fragmented soul-part can be brought back through practices such as soul retrieval.

In prayer, I have always struggled with the sense that there is a veil between myself and God/divinity; a veil I would now term a dissociative veil.

In my 20s I spent five years as a Carmelite nun, five immensely rich years, intending to dedicate myself to God for the rest of my life. What I did not realise at the time was just how devastating the trauma I had experienced as a child through abuse had been,  and the impact that had had on me as an adult.  Living in community was highly triggering, but I had little idea of what it was triggering back to; what the emotional flashbacks were all pointing to. It became clear that I could not continue my life as a Carmelite, as I had been too damaged by my childhood; left too unstable for community life.

Now I know just how traumatised I was, and am grateful indeed for the trauma therapy (EMDR) I am now going for. I would liken this to the process of soul retrival, placed within a modern psychological framework. Fragmented parts of the soul are brought back. Yes, they are the dissociated emotional parts which carry traumatic memories, but specialist trauma therapy is able to put these in the past, where they belong.

Today I spent an hour in prayer in another Carmelite monastery chapel. A place of deep Healing, of Light, of Peace, and of Hope. Carmel stands as a witness to the Eternal, the Absolute, the One. It is uncompromising; asking that we give ourselves totally to that One. Yet that Eternal One does not want a mere sliver of who we are, a tiny fragment of who we are, a superficial persona. What that One calls us to be is the fullness of ourselves – because how can we relate to any B/being if we are splintered into dissociative fragments? The relationship will only be with a tiny part of who we are.

Called into the fullness of Life by that One, I know that One will also give me the strength to continue in this path of recovery, no matter how tough it is.

Amen.

 

‘When the masks fall’ – sharing a powerful offering from Northerntamarisk

This is a truly powerful piece from Northerntamarisk which fully deserves a wider sharing. She draws deeply from the well of a tradition not her own, the wellsprings of the Carmelite path of the Dark Night of the Soul and the desert which blossoms, to reach deeper into the heart of her own path of devotion.

I am struck once again by how, in deep contemplation, the path to interfaith dialogue can be forged, and how, at the heart of all, there is a true sense of Oneness expressed through rich diversity.

 

Source: When the masks fall we meet Them as we Are

Imbolc Vows

February 2nd is the anniversary of my first vows as a Carmelite nun back in 1990 and for the last few years I have marked this anniversary with my own, somewhat alternative, vows.

Holding my little Brighid statue today it was very simple:-

 

To honour myself as woman

To reclaim my body from my mother

To embrace my true sexuality as it emerges