I was fired once. And only once. A Hebrew school principal who decided I wasn’t religious enough to continue teaching at her Sunday School kindly asked me to leave.
I actually admired her and to this day, I haven’t quite figured out how she figured me out. My job was to teach 8 year olds how to read Hebrew so that they could develop their skill into becoming Bar and Bat Mitzvahs when they would become 12 year old boys and 13 year old girls. I was REALLY GOOD at teaching Hebrew and had even received awards for it, including most popular teacher :-).
In the few years prior to this event, I’d been questioning my religion and all religion as I explored new ways of looking at myself and life and God. As a result, I had become much more inclusive in the idea that we are all born of the same amazing, mysterious, infinitely loving and intelligent Source.
Well, the Hebrew school principal noticed that all of my students were doing fantastically when it came to actually reading Hebrew but that they were not doing so great when it came to reciting their prayers.
So, I was asked to leave with the caveat that when and if I came back to my Jewish roots, I would be welcome back to teach in their school.
I actually admire this woman so much. She knew who she was and what she valued. A few months later, I wrote a beautiful poem about her and sent it to her.
And I continued on my path, enjoying all of the recovering Baptists, Jews, Catholics and every other religion you can imagine among mostly white women the Course in Miracles group I attended every Tuesday morning in Tampa, Florida. The peace I felt at those meetings bi-passed my logical mind – seemingly at the speed of light – and I began to find my own roots, my own connection to Spirit.
The community was unconditional. Open-minded. Inclusive. Thoughtful. And kind.
A few years later, I met someone through an online Jewish dating service. After a couple of weeks, and after agreeing that we weren’t a good fit, he said, “You shouldn’t post on J-Date. You don’t act Jewish. You’re spiritual, and you don’t just talk about it. You really live it.”
Wow. I didn’t realize that I was that transparent. And I also didn’t realize just how much I was hiding. Well, after that incident, I really felt unwelcome in the Jewish community. For being different. For having new values. For thinking for myself – which, by the way, Judaism encourages! (Hmph!)
On the flip side: I felt relieved. And free. FREE TO BE ME.
But, there was a dark side, a shadow side, to the spiritual communities that I enjoyed so much. It took quite a few years of studying the people and studying my own life to finally recognize what it was.
Freedom and joy and love are strongly held values in most of the spiritual communities I attended. But the members also seemed to be held back. In their lives, they seemed to be under-actualized. Not living up to their potential. A little bit color-less and dimmed down. This was not my version of well-being. Something was off. Something was missing.
I now recognize their symptoms as Complex Post Traumatic Stress. Holy Bejezus. Well, but of course! If they’re recovering Baptists, Jews, Catholics, etc… they must have left their religions of birth FOR A REASON. Usually the stories I heard that caused them to feel out-of-place or uncomfortable were of spiritual abuse or spiritual suffocation or spiritual constriction or spiritual contradictions. They were TRAUMATIZED.
That’s not a problem when it’s brought to the light of day because then it can be processed and it can be resolved. But trauma’s sister is SECRECY. And her other sister is shame. And shame, when it stays secret, festers. So you end up with a bunch of people seeking spiritual freedom but walking around with backpacks full of unresolved wounds and shame that seriously need to be dumped.
The biggest challenge is that most of the SPIRITUAL communities refused to talk about psychology and trauma. Because inside of those conversations, BLAME must be shed. And that’s a no-no when you’re core value is “positivity at all costs.” I believe in positivity and taking personal responsibility. I believe in love. I believe in prayer. I believe that love can heal everything.
But I also know that you can’t heal what you don’t face. And part of facing unresolved trauma is ALLOWING blame and shame to surface – and allowing them to be set free.
The other thing that I noticed in spiritual communities is that they don’t like talking about MONEY, POWER and INFLUENCE. Oh, no. God – or some evil corporate power – has a monopoly on those conversations. Something like that.
I see “gray” around people’s auras when they suffocate these shadowy desires. As a whole, I don’t see Jewish people having a problem with desiring and acquiring money, power and influence. There’s something so gorgeously refreshing about seeing people fully own their strengths and share their gifts with others, with the world.
I so longed for an inclusive community that could celebrate our differences while also cheering each other on for the joys of full self expression, including art and prayer and healing. Including money, power and influence.
I’m convinced that any time you suffocate your desires, you lose self-approval, self-love, self-nurturing and self-worth. And this is a feeding ground for TRAUMA. Fuck that shit.
It’s time we wholeheartedly embrace self-approval on every level. That doesn’t mean we need to act on all of our desires, it simply means that we need to own them, embrace them and celebrate them. In fact, this is the essence of mindfulness. It’s about getting deeply honest with ourselves about what we feel, what we need and what we really want. It means trusting our bodies and trusting our hearts in ways that we have always longed to do. It means believing in ourselves NO MATTER WHAT.
I love coaching people and I love seeing them win at whatever game they want to play, as long as it has a positive intent. I LOOOVE getting people to fully admit their own power to themselves and then express it out loud, with sheer love at the basis of their being. And a magic wand in their hand.
If you’re ready to face it, own it, discuss it, embrace it, you can find out more here.
Make your story matter.
Debbie Happy Cohen
Aka: HAPPY D!
I want you to LOVE negotiating for JOY! | Author | Coach at Joy-Based Living