Monday, December 27, 2021

Christmas 2021

Dear traveling companions near and far,                                                Dec 29, 2021

Wow. Has it been a year since I wrote anything on my blog?

Well, I guess that makes sense, considering everything.

I’m going to speak from my heart. Brace yourself; here comes some drastic vulnerability.

 

Last year was really, REALLY hard for me. Starting in November 2020, I sank into depression and it only deepened into the new year. My doctor tried changing my depression medications, but the new ones caused new problems. I started having tremors in my hands; I lost my coordination and balance; I just wanted to lie in my bed and sleep. It became increasingly hard to focus on my online job, (which paid very little for the time I was putting in). I needed organizing jobs! But the pandemic roared on.

 

Then in April, I broke my foot. (Thank you, negligent management company.) All my efforts to provide for myself became moot. I descended into a deeper despair than I admitted to myself.


Through denial and self-will, I persevered. By June, my foot still wasn’t healing properly. I had gained 15 pounds. The handful of “imminent” organizing jobs in NYC had never materialized. I hadn’t contributed to our rent since December. I was in debt AGAIN. I felt helpless and stuck, with my health deteriorating weekly (no balance, coordination, or endurance). I was utterly powerless to effect good on my own behalf and saw no reason this would change. I was so frustrated and angry! Thoughts of suicide were circling.


My faith has been through many phases since my naïve and shiny youth. It has been through times of tremendous depth and a sense of closeness to God (wonderful). It has been through a sense of God’s abandonment, followed by a long time in a spiritual desert wondering if any of the past faith had been real. Most recently, while I believe God has everyone’s best long-term interests at heart (think “afterlife”), God also lets us suffer all sorts of earthly misfortunes without protection. I had no sense at all that God would keep me out of the mental hospital or pay my bills.

 


It was during this darkest of times that I got a good hard look at how much pride I have had in my own abilities. I have been creative and persistent. I have risen from catastrophic loss and reinvented my life again, and again, with “my” irrepressible optimism and creativity, and faith. I am strong.

 

But this time I couldn’t rise. I had nothing. I couldn’t get myself out of this nosedive. I was not in charge of my life at all.


Into this desperate space came the words of a dear friend. “You must pray for a resurrection. You must ask for your life back and pray for a resurrection.” I choked up, both at the ridiculousness of the notion (a resurrection for me?) and at the poignancy. I wanted a resurrection with all my heart!


I began praying daily for a resurrection that I doubted would ever come. I cried over my journal day after day, sick and still limping, gaining weight, unable to find regular work, and sinking in debt. I prayed for a resurrection, not even knowing what that meant. I just wanted to live again.

 

As the days passed and tears flowed I came to an important realization: Nothing I had, NOTHING was ever mine. “My” creativity? A fluke of genetics and environment. “My” perseverance? Sufficient privilege plus pure stubbornness and wishful thinking. The peculiar blend of talents and academic ability I had enjoyed? Just what came with along with brown eyes, depression, and a love of theater. I was responsible for none of it. I never had been.

This felt incredibly vulnerable – reduced to the absolute dependency of a newborn. Nothing I had ever done or been was of my creation. It was not of my will, nor from my “powerful manifestation skills,” nor because I “tried harder” than others. Nothing. NOTHING. I was 100% not the creator of any of the good in my life. I have been helped my whole life long even while I took all the credit.

 

Then followed this realization.  If I am not the source of “my” gifts and talents, neither am I the source of my misfortunes. I don’t deserve blame for my current suffering any more than I deserve praise for any successes. By owning my successes, I was also owning my failures, when in neither did I have much power at all.

That release of responsibility for all success and all failure in my life landed deeply in my body. I gained new ease, moving away from quite such desperate EFFORTING in my life.

 

Slowly, my life began to improve. My psychiatric practitioner let me discontinue two of the new medicines. In quick succession coordination, stamina, and balance returned. I could sequence thoughts again. I began to be interested in life again. My broken foot was a little less painful each week. Nevertheless, it was mid-September and I still had no way to make a living. I will never again underestimate the physical and psychological toll of having no income and no way to get one.  

 

Then, on the 27th of October, money from Dad’s estate landed in my account. It changed everything. I paid all my debts. I paid Sam’s debts too, making up for all my missed rent at the same time. I found myself trembling with relief. I cried repeatedly as the tremendous weight slid off my shoulders.

 

I now had a way forward. The inheritance is by no means enough to retire on. But it is enough for me to return to Canada where I can finish my psychotherapy certification without starting from the beginning. I can go into practice and finally earn a living wage. My inheritance is making this possible. My inheritance has produced what feels like a full resurrection.  I feel as though I got an amazing, undeserved miracle (my life back).


We have always planned to retire in Canada. It seems I’m making the move early and building a place for us there. Sam can’t follow me yet. His workplace just slammed the door on working from another country. Still, we can visit each other. We will be a two-country couple starting Jan 31, 2022. It’s going to be hard, but it is the only path forward that I can see.

 

Sam’s job has remained steady throughout the shut-downs, re-openings, and re-shut-downs, which is a huge blessing. In October we attended a long-planned family reunion with my kids and their families in Muskoka, Ontario. This was near Canadian Thanksgiving and one month before my 60th birthday. It was also over Sam's and my 5th wedding anniversary. We had a LOT to celebrate! The colors were stunning. Sam really took to the Muskoka region (finding craft breweries) and fit in well with the family.

 

Granddaughter Andrea presented me with a portrait. It has my top-knot, my glasses, and even the string I keep on my glasses so I don’t lose them. I am officially a grandma and no denying it.  

I spent two weeks in my hometown caring for my dear “adoptive” parents, Paul and Beryl Simonetti, who had both descended abruptly into disability. It felt wonderful to be there and care for them. I felt needed and also valuably helpful as the family adjusted to disabled parents, doctor’s visits, stair-lifts, and a search for assisted living.

 

As soon as I got home we set out on a Caribbean cruise, a treat from Sam’s sister. Before we flew home we spent several days with my sister Marcia and her wife in Florida. It was so good to see them in their new home.

Do I have a spiritual message to share? I will leave you to draw your own this year. Maybe prayers don’t change God, but these ones changed me and carried me from June - October. Can money be an answer to a prayer? It has given me freedom and dignity. It has given me hope and a future. That feels like an answered prayer. I feel like I was granted a resurrection, which is a gift of incalculable worth.

 

Thank you for listening. Thank you for reading all the way through this!

 

We send wishes that all created beings might find freedom from want, the dignity of autonomy, inclusion, comfort, and joy this coming year regardless of what any viruses are doing! 

AliSam


The new address for Alison 
as of Feb 1, 2022, will be 

57 Queen Street North, #712
Kitchener, ON. 
CANADA   N2H 6T7



Friday, December 18, 2020

Christmas 2020

(recommended listening)

I am reflecting on how many more people this holiday season will be experiencing a blue Christmas. From the simple sadness of staying separate to forestall death, to the terrible realities of those who have already lost loved ones to this pandemic; from the financial uncertainty, lost jobs, lost health, and lost homes, to the mobile morgues all across the country – very few of us are facing the holiday to which we have been accustomed.


I counsel many people who lost “Christmas” long ago, due to childhood abuse, or family rejection, or the loss of religious belonging and faith. Many try to erase all meaning from the season as if that will remove the pain of the losses. Others try to pretend they don’t care about the holidays, yet end up angry at others’ joy and playfulness, and attack the meaning others find in the season. (Like a true Grinch. Did anyone ever ask how the Grinch’s heart got so small, to begin with? Such anger is not uncommon and is even an understandable response to the degree of loss. Anger is a stage of grief.)


Still others seek to rebuild some new meaning around new traditions, in order to find more robust and resilient meaning and to reclaim the holidays in some new way for themselves. They build chosen families where they can find the comfort, inclusion, and joy which their original families can’t offer them. This is a path of hope and creativity and acceptance. 
As a lifelong Christian, who has had her own traumatic loss of religious belonging, and journeyed through agnosticism and atheism, I’m reflecting on how much of the Nativity story is NOT about comfort and joy. Indeed, the poignant and sometimes dreadful aspects of the Biblical narrative can provide so much space for belonging, resonance, and tenderness for those of us in mourning and uncertainty. One does not need to believe that an actual Jesus, son of God, was born on earth to a virgin to find metaphorical resonance in the great narrative, any more than one needs to believe there is an actual Santa Claus to find the season joyful. The story captures our hearts and makes a place for communal self-recognition if not always celebration. 

You see, the mourning of all the mothers in the region of Bethlehem whose infants were torn from their arms and slaughtered (Matthew 2:16–18) is also a part of the Christmas story, and points to the horrors enacted by those seeking to preserve and maintain power even at the cost of the lives of the most innocent and powerless.
 

The homelessness of the couple seeking somewhere to give birth also illustrates the inhumanity already in the world, the very world into which the Divine (goodness, compassion, wisdom, gentleness) was trying to be born. They were excluded. They were not considered worth the inconvenience required to find them any space. Instead, the world was either indifferent or murderously hostile to this vulnerable message of comfort and joy. How hard is it even now to welcome some collective kindness and vulnerability and softness into our shared experience? 


Only simple guardians of innocence (shepherds) are able to hear the good news: that a big change was coming. This baby would be the living embodiment of wisdom, compassion, healing, and social justice—so desperately needed as much then as now. 
This savior is precisely coming to those grieving and rejected, lost and abandoned, hunted and shamed. "Blessed are those who mourn, for they WILL be comforted.” That is a promise. The story isn’t over yet. This story is about the promise of justice and radical kindness. You see, the comfort and joy, the light in the darkness, the hope after great struggle and despair is just one part of the whole story. Whether we are experiencing homelessness or displacement, rejection, and hostility, great mourning or anger, and despair, we are in the story too. And those experiences are the reason for the story. If all was brightness and joy all the time, there would be no need for a savior. 

Nothing much has changed in humankind, which is why the genuine story continues to resonate. The Christmas story is not so much about whether something amazing happened 2000 years ago, but whether you and I and our world TODAY is ready to welcome great joy for all people. Today? Now? Do we include all people in our desire for comfort and joy, be they straight or queer, atheist or orthodox, similar to us or radically different from us? Or do we still think God loves some people (us), more than others (them)? 

And so, in 2020, do we include those who are mourning? Do we let each other feel what we need to feel, and still love each other completely? Do we ask how we can support someone who is grieving or hurt or rejected this time of year and ask what would feel like a blessing to them? What would give them a tiny bit of comfort and joy despite everything? 
To welcome and acknowledge (all feelings and) all cultural holiday traditions this time of year is deeply Christian in my imagination. As it is deeply Jewish, and Muslim, and pan-African, and Buddhist, and Hindi—indeed, the deepest wisdom of all the great traditions point to the same values of inclusion, non-abuse, hospitality, equality, and compassion. I don’t need to throw out the Christian story because some Christians try to make it invalidate all others. It includes a deep look at all the aspects of humanity, horrifying as well as redemptive, and it was never meant to be exclusive. And so this bruised and battered Christian is finding new and comforting meaning in the nativity story this year. May you find new and comforting meaning this year too, no matter where, how, and through what medium you find it. 
Namaste, aloha, amen, peace be upon you, and all other acknowledgments of shared humanity,

Alison & Sam

We are well! (fingers crossed) Sam continues at his job with Penguin Random House Publishing, and we remain hunkered down in New York City, making the best we can of some very hard times. Sam's father, sisters, brothers-in-law, nephew, and nieces also remain unscathed. There are many things for which we can be grateful! 
Alison has a new, part-time job analyzing data for the Center for Mind and Culture as part of the Hardy Religious and Spiritual Experience Project. We are hoping this will begin to fill in the financial hole left by the collapse of her organizing business, Moore Magic Organizing. Her children and granddaughters are all thriving despite the pandemic, as are her siblings and spouses. Still, we will both miss seeing our family over the holidays. On the fun side, Alison was a guest on two separate podcasts this year: the Fundamental Shift podcast in December, and  So, You're Canadian, with comedian Dave Hill back before the ceiling caved in on us all.

To one and all, may 2021 be ever so much better than 2020! 
AliSam

Friday, September 4, 2020

The Evolution of Morality Part 1: Care and Fairness


Morality has been the subject of academic scholarship for many years. Moral values are not, as I originally imagined, a set of known values about which the whole world agrees.

Springing from Piaget's observations of the stages of cognitive development in children, Lawrence Kohlberg (1927 - 1987) developed a related theory of moral development which has been foundational to this subject's ongoing study.


If morality is developmental, then no wonder humans struggle to agree on what our moral values "should be." Depending on all sorts of cultural and experiential factors, individuals will prioritize certain values over others. An individual will hold fast to the values that "feel right" until and unless the rhetoric around them and how they understand their experiences change sufficiently

One of the most prominent theories today posits 5 foundations of morality.

These foundations can be most succinctly summed up here: https://moralfoundations.org/

You can find an in-depth exploration within the book The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided By Politics and Religion

Here are those 5 foundations of morality:

1) Care (aka "do no harm")

2) Fairness

3) Loyalty 

4) Authority 

5) Sanctity (aka purity over impurity)

How we understand these values matters, because how we prioritize them affects so much: what we expect from others, what offends or disgusts us, which political and religious leaders appeal to us, what foundational values we imagine should underlie how we govern/are governed, and so much more. 

One final thing to know before I start discussing these foundations:

As a rule "Conservatives" generally weight all five values equally, while "Liberals" generally weight Care and Fairness above the other three.

The following discussion contains my distillation of how I arrived at my "liberal" moral foundations. It is reflective, personal, and designed to add to the discussion. It is not "what everyone should think so if you disagree you are wrong," nor is it prescriptive or authoritative. I do believe it is valuable as part of the discussion.

CARE and FAIRNESS 

Care and Fairness encapsulate all the other values in my mind. They are a summation of the Golden Rule which is found in some form in all world religions. If one genuinely cares about others in equal weight to oneself, one wants equal care and fairness for them as well as oneself. One does not tend to look at others as a threat, but rather, as one's neighbor; therefore one does not tend to dehumanize groups by calling them "criminals" or "immigrants" or "from shit-hole countries." 

Under the Golden Rule, one tends to see the other in oneself and feel compassion for the hardships that the other has endured (and often continues to endure). One isn't as likely to scapegoat a marginalized group or to lay all the world's problems at their feet as some seem to. Laying society's ills at the feet of "the homosexuals" or "those transgender freaks" or "those teenagers having sex" is seen as incredibly ignorant. Instead, problems are seen as societal and innate to the human condition. Battles can be fought within oneself reducing the impulses to hate, scapegoat, or marginalize others. 

The Care and Fairness foundations often show up as activism for social justice causes around the world. They may show up as someone refusing to shop with businesses that exploit their workers just to bring "deals" to their customers. (Personally, I find the idea that some poor worker was exploited just so I could save a few bucks abhorrent. Who am I to deserve to save a little more money at the expense of some nameless, faceless worker in an impoverished country?)

The way liberals and conservatives hold "fairness" can look quite different. I have been on the receiving end of a lot of injustice, which makes me want to stop all injustice everywhere. If someone else is suffering from bullying or marginalization, I believe we all suffer. "We all suffer until nobody suffers," so to speak. 

But among some conservatives, the fairness argument seems to sound more like, "I want to be protected from cheaters" as though they themselves never cheat. There doesn't seem to be any sense of their own cheating ways---their entitlements, their desire for special status, or the ways their own team might cut corners. "Cheaters are some group "out there" and never themselves or their own team members.

In my mind, for genuine fairness to exist, everyone must be rigorously aware of their own impulses to cheat. We are all natural-born cheaters, be we liberals or conservatives, anarchists, or anything else. Until that universal human tendency is recognized, cheaters are always "them" "out there" different from "us" "in here." Therefore, if fortune favors our side, we tend to believe we deserved it. If fortune favors our opponents, we are likely to cry, "unfair!" 

This is a universal human trait. We ALL must stay alert to this tendency within ourselves and our group.

Next post: The Evolution of Morality Part 2: Loyalty, Authority, Sanctity - coming soon

Thank you for reading!



Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Cain and Abel and the Stages of Spirituality


So, I’m a student of the Psychology of Religion.

Scholars have done studies on the developmental stages of faith—meaning there ARE stages of faith from less mature to more mature. Early stages rely on an external authority. They are very rules-based and about doing things “right” according to the authority and the rules. There is usually an innocence or naïveté because folks don’t know better, they can’t be more progressive yet, and they absolutely want to be “saved".


The hardest shift is between level 3 and level 4 spirituality (according to James Fowler) when a person shifts from an external authority to an internal authority, and from a head-based religion to a heart-based religion.
(Richard Rohr simplifies it as early life—stages 1, 2, 3—and later life—stages 4 and up.) The people around them who are still in a rules- and authority-based religion are particularly threatened by their shift and do not understand it. I liken it to learning to swim. People who have not learned to swim cling to the side of the pool and call out in fear at their loved ones who are starting to let go and swim in the water.

(Does this information help in understanding the ways people do religion that can be so different?)

If you are raised by people who are in stage 4 or higher level of spiritual development, you still have to go through your own stages, but everything about the way they live encourages you to move into a thoughtful, heart-based approach to life. But if you are raised by people who are “clinging to the side of the pool” in an authoritative “you will only be safe if you stick with us” religion, it is much much harder to take the next developmental step into heart-wisdom, because most of the people around you are screaming that you are going to “die”. They don't want you to notice all the people that you’re finding who are living from their hearts and yet are not "dead".

This theory has helped me a lot in understanding why people do religion the way they do. Levels five and higher in spiritual development don’t even look like “religion”, because they are so respectful of the individual spiritual journey. They tend to be empowering, not controlling.

How is this connected to Cain and Abel? (Genesis 4)

My childhood tradition's teachings say that Cain represents “the need to be right” and Abel represents “being loving from deep wisdom.” They are brothers because they are ways of doing religion. Cain is born first (early spirituality) and Abel second (later life spirituality). Cain resents and does not understand why God favors Abel (the more mature and genuine spirituality). Cain is threatened by Abel and wants God's favor too, not understanding the shifts he still has to make in his motivations and perspective. And threatened, Cain “kills” Abel thinking that that is the way to win God's attention and favor (someone clearly isn't reading the manual). Cain-energy in life will always kill Abel-energy. Judgy, controlling, need-to-be-perfect-and-right ways of doing religion (or politics) will always attack and criticize and invalidate loving, inclusive, service-focused ways of doing religion (and politics). It’s just the way people are. There's a foundational shift that needs to happen from "I've got mine, screw you" to "We are all in this together; if you are suffering, we are all suffering".


We all have a tendency to be drawn into the need to be right and "win" arguments. We value a sense of cognitive security and don't like perspectives that threaten our foundational narrative of how life (God, "salvation") works. Arguing with someone about how they are wrong is rarely effective because they are so emotionally invested in "staying alive" (maintaining the reality they have known and trusted until this point).

If you don't know how to swim, moving into deep water means death.

Questioning religious dogma is moving into deep water. It is essential that we learn to swim so as to be much freer and to realize how life-giving swimming can be. But everything in Cain-level development screams "death!" unless you are surrounded by loving swimmers encouraging you to try swimming.

The same way you can't teach a child to read until they have reached reading readiness, you can't force a lower level spiritual seeker to be ready to think for themselves until they are ready AND feel safe enough to try. Some birds are pushed from the nest, some fly with sufficient encouragement, but some have parents telling them that flying equals death.

So just love everybody to bits.

Try not to judge because people are (possibly stuck) where they are for good reason.

Learn to draw firm boundaries with those who want to push their beliefs on you (spiritual violation) even as you stop trying to push your beliefs onto others (still a spiritual violation, no matter how "right" you are).

This is my distillation of theology and psychology. It is not to be used as a club to force others to agree. Just a balm and guide for those who need a helpful perspective.

For more scholarship on the stages of faith you might start here:

For counseling and empowerment on your spiritual journey, you may contact me here:
I do talk therapy as well as weddings.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Christmas 2019

Dear ones far and near,                                                 January 2020

Happy events kept me from writing a timely letter this year. We were taken on a Caribbean cruise as a surprise Christmas present to Sam’s father. My eldest daughter and her husband decided to come along! So we had a lovely time traveling and seeing sights on the high seas. While it didn’t look or feel like Christmas to my northern bones, it was an especially delightful time with family.

Sam and I have been married for three years and three months.  It is remarkable to me how lovely it is to be partnered with this man. I had dreamed of such companionship and reciprocity but had long since given up hope until I said yes to this guy. Being happily partnered does not solve all of life’s problems, but it certainly makes it easier, and with Sam, full of laughter too.

I have spent the year traveling for work. No consistent clients in New York City yet, but I do have lots of work near my home town in Pennsylvania, and I also have clients in Ontario. The Ontario clientele cover the cost of the bus fare to see my friends and family in Ontario too!

Speaking of family, daughter Eden and her husband Aaron had a scary couple of days in July when they discovered all was not well with her pregnancy. After tests and consultation, their care team decided to take the baby three weeks early. She was tiny and perfect and arrived safe and sound. I arrived in Ontario just a few hours after she did! Paige is now six months old and already a force to be reckoned with. I am in Kitchener on a visit even as I write, and am soaking up every minute, be it playing with Andrea, or rocking and holding Paige.

It was also my first time being in town for Andrea's birthday. I got to help ice the cake and watch her unwrap her presents. She loves all things purple and princessy AND is an amazing rock climber. This girl can do it all! She loves being a big sister. 

Paige has big blue eyes and loves to make noise. She makes great eye-contact and is progressing right on schedule.  She doesn't sleep much, which is hard on her mom. But eventually, she will. That's what I keep telling Eden!  

Life seems to have come down to work and family. I still battle with depression, which makes the constant advertising and reaching out for my business extra hard. But once I’m on the job, I am grounded and focussed. Helping people organize their spaces to best suit their lives is not just fun, it truly is magical.

I am including a photo I took on Puerto Rico as I climbed the Yohaku Tower in El Yunque National Forest. Our tour guide pointed out the face of the god "Yucahu" on the mountain top.  Can you see the nose, lips, and eyebrow ridge? Pretty cool, eh?

As global politics and climate change continue to be baffling and frightening, I choose to focus increasingly on the small and beautiful moments of daily life.  I do everything I can to learn about the issues and promote decency and compassion, non-exploitation and stewardship. Then I have to unhook from the world and be in the small moments. 

And so ends the 2010s.

For me, it was a decade of tremendous change,  upheaval, and growth. I'm not sorry it is behind me. 

I am committing to writing every day. I am going to build an outline for my next novel and then begin to hang scenes on it. I am done waiting for inspiration. This novel's gonna have to come out using forceps, and that's what I'm gonna do, if necessary.

May you be finding your small moments of joy. May you continue to build a community that loves and supports you. 

And may you keep coming home to yourself.

Here is a small moment of joy.

Blessings in the new decade,
Sam and Alison Moore