The Sacrament of Paying Attention


The Church conducts sacraments to infuse life-changing experiences like birth, marriage, and death with sacred meaning. Many find these rituals deeply satisfying and enjoy the positive feelings they bring long afterwards.  But inevitably our sense of the Sacred fades and the good feelings are replaced with less comfortable ones. What do we do then?  Formal community rituals don’t address the inner discomfort of an individual psyche.
Every ego experiences wounding in the process of growing up, and sometimes the normal pressures of life reactivate our wounds.  Then they speak to us in uncomfortable moods and emotions like tension, anxiety, agitation, self-doubt, depression, sadness, longing, frustration, irritability, self-pity, anger. Most egos learn to repress certain thoughts and feelings that bring inner discomfort, and we tend to feel proud of our ability to do this.
This is a mistake.  Even the tiniest emotional twinge can be a valuable message from our unconscious, but ignorance turns the opportunity for a blessing into an obstacle that separates us from our awareness of the Sacred. Thus, do we deprive ourselves of the love and balance that are our spiritual inheritance.
There is a sacrament anyone can conduct to free and heal the wounded and imprisoned parts of ourselves. I call it the Sacrament of Paying Attention. The first step is to notice when we’re feeling or acting uncomfortable or moody. The second is to imagine which of our many wounded inner characters is causing the feeling or mood. And the third is to treat this shadow with warm welcome and kind attention until it becomes our friend.
Dream analysis and journal-writing help us perfect these steps. Dreams depict our wounds in the feelings, emotions, and behaviors of our dream ego and other characters. Writing about these things brings understanding and self-acceptance. After 21 years I can feel the wound and befriend the shadow in a few moments under normal circumstances. But as I write this I’m traveling with a group in a foreign land and have had little opportunity to tend to inner business. A few nights ago I had a dream in Saigon that spoke to how my soul was feeling about this.
In the dream I’m hosting a wedding shower in my childhood home and nothing goes quite right. I keep the guests waiting outside for ten minutes, and when I let them in I realize I haven’t tidied up the house or prepared refreshments. Then I rush the bride-to-be into opening her gifts without taking the time to welcome my guests, make them comfortable, or conduct the opening ritual I had planned. I try to justify this by telling myself I’ve done the best I can, but the dream ends with me feeling ashamed and wishing I had paid more attention. My guests deserved my best effort.
I wanted to ignore this dream and the feelings it evoked, but it had alerted me to the stress and self-criticism that prolonged interaction with others produces in me, and I knew it would only get worse in the days ahead. So, on the long bus ride from Saigon to the Mekong Delta I sat alone, recorded the dream, wrote my associations, and tried to identify the wounded shadow who’s feeling this way. In doing so, I recognized my introverted child (I was in my childhood home) whose conditioning to solitude left her ill-equipped for lengthy and intense communal situations.
The sense of release and relief was immediate and dramatic. Attending to this dream soothed my child, showered my inner bride-to-be and other inner guests with the attention they deserved, and gave me the refreshing respite I needed. The Sacrament of Paying Attention reunited my ego with the Beloved.  I’m all better now!
You can find Healing the Sacred Divide at this Amazon link and at Larson Publications, Inc.
Note:  I’m not in Viet Nam now. This is a revised version of a post that first appeared in December of 2010!

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19 Responses

  1. Jeanie,
    Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful. I happened to read again about this very subject today. Listening to our pain or discomfort is such a gift of rest and renewal – an inner hug of love and acceptance – eventually opening the way for integrated, renewed, enlivened, strengthened, expanded life and wisdom – the way of our creative life force, creating and weaving new life – the beauty and meaning of our peaks and valleys.
    As you said, “The sense of release and relief was immediate and dramatic. The Sacrament of Paying Attention tamed the enemy and reunited my ego with the Beloved. I’m all better now.”
    Love, hugs, joy, blessings and gratitude to you Jeanie, thanks for sharing with us your wisdom, your truth and your ongoing life process. Sandy

    1. Thanks, Sandy. I like your “inner hug of love and acceptance.” That’s exactly how it feels. Like giving yourself the kind attention a loving mother would; like being rocked gently in her arms until all agitation dissolves and you are at peace: a very maternal sacrament that honors the mother in all of us. I appreciate that insight.
      Love, Jeanie

  2. Jeanie,
    What a wonderful spiritual practice you have developed!
    These first two steps, “to notice every pain that pierces our heart. The second is to follow each poisoned arrow back to its source to locate and name the enemy within” are what shamans call “stalking”. In the sense of tracking something back to its lair…..only, just like you, they are talking about the inner actions and reactions that have become self-defeating habits.
    The way you have integrated it into your daily life is fantastic. I applaud your dedication to this lifelong project of metamorphosis!

    1. Hi William,
      That’s fascinating. I love the name “stalking”. That is what it’s like, as you know. Like tracking down a wild, skittish creature that doesn’t want to be seen or known by human consciousness and does everything it can to hide out in the darkest, most hidden places. And then gently, patiently teasing it out with all the patience you can muster for as long as it takes. Like Horse Whispering. I think that’s what I loved about training my young horse so much: Our work together was a metaphor for the inner work to which I am so dedicated. When I bought him he was a semi-wild instinctual colt and I knew that if I could just understand him and learn his language and get him to trust me we could become partners and together we could do so much more than either of us would ever do alone. And every time we understood each other a bit better it was such a joy.
      And thank you very sincerely for your applause. It’s so lovely to be understood and appreciated for following one’s passion.

    2. Note to readers: It’s almost three years since this post first appeared. In my revision of it today I changed the language of the first two steps to simplify and refine my understanding of them. But now, after reading William’s comment, I wish I’d kept it!! Jeanie

      1. Jeanie, What a nice surprise to see this lovely note in my mail ! It doesn’t surprise me that you continue to evolve your expression of this living spiritual practice in order to be as inclusive as possible. So, even more applause!! Please receive all my admiration and appreciation for your fine work that benefits us all……Wm

  3. I was an only child and solitary. For me, it is just the same as you say it is for you: it is difficult for me to be with a lot of people for very long. I like your description of sitting alone and writing in your journal. Instead of staying in a state of discomfort, you managed to carve out a space of solitude for yourself.

    1. It’s so nice to be understood, isn’t it? Yes, I’m getting pretty good at recognizing when I’m over-stimulated and usually manage to find a way to get myself back to my “sweet spot.” This is a term Susan Cain uses in her new book “Quiet” to describe that place between over- and under-stimulation that’s unique to each person. It’s a wonderful book, by the way! Thank you for writing.

  4. Hi Jeanie,
    In doing an online search for the meaning of psyche in relation to soul and Self, I googled your blog and saw that you posted recently…nice to have you back! If you have a moment, can you clarify for me or refer me to a specific post?
    As well, I’ve come across two books I really like: “Falling Upward” by Richard Rohr and “The Light Inside the Dark” by John Tarrant…have you read them? bett fitz

    1. Dear Bett,
      This is a tough one that has stumped the brightest minds throughout the ages. I don’t know the answer, but I can tell you what I think I think at this moment!
      For me, Self is the central archetype of the human “mind” (another difficult term to describe). It encompasses everything about my personhood and distills it into my core desire to evolve, to transcend my human limitations and connect with the Grand Mystery. Jung called this compelling and wonder-filling form of energy our God-image. IT’s what tells us there is something “more” beyond what our puny egos can possibly know, and it causes us to want to unite with IT.
      Right now I see Soul as my unique essence, one small, but valuable and ongoing part of the Grand Mystery. My body is a physical manifestation of this very real, but invisible entity we call the soul. My soul has a unique contribution to make to physical life, and it will continue to exist, as does every form of energy, after it leaves my physical body.
      Psyche has long been considered another name for Soul. In Greek myth, the soul’s journey through life was personified in the human woman Psyche who, through her love for the God Eros (Love), was transformed into a Goddess. If I had to make a distinction between Psyche and Soul, it would be that it is the aspects of the Soul that are accessible to humans through our study of psychology and the human personality.
      These are fine distinctions and by no mean utterly clear. There are times when I use all three terms interchangeably, depending on the particular manifestation I’m talking about: archetypal reality, physical/spiritual essence, or personality. Three in one. Hmmmm…..
      Thank you for this wonderful question. I hope I’ve answered it adequately for you. Thanks also for the book recommendations. I haven’t read either one, but will check them out.

      1. And I’m reading Richard Rohr’s daily meditations and have two of his books. He’s a true major Spirit Person of our time, and a brilliant teacher! I breathe sighs of relief just about every time I read his work!

  5. “Every ego experiences wounding in the process of growing up” is exactly where I’m at in life at the moment. I’ve been trying to reconcile with all of the less comfortable feelings of growing up and dealing with life. Your post was really comforting to me and I think I’m going to try journaling and be-friending these “shadows.” Thanks for the pep-talk!

    1. I’m glad this was meaningful to you, Paul. My Jungian studies have been helpful in so many ways, but the insights I’ve gained about how my introverted and highly sensitive personality creates discomfort for me in social situations, and how to ease this discomfort, have been among the most affirming and freeing. May it be so for you too.

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