fear · pride · self-support

Whose Idea was this Anyway?

3.2.18

Yesterday, we had our Purim carnival at school, each classroom decorated and hosting a games booth hand-made by students.  Children could wander from room to room, trying out the brainteasers, fortune tellers, and human whack-a-mole (super cute video of a kindergartner bopping 6th graders’ exposed noggins).  Music blared in the hallways, the chatter of kids egging each other on or roasting each others’ missed foozball shots.

And I sat in the center of it all with a large mug of tea, a gorgeous view out my classroom window, and the sounds of water-drippy spa meditation music.  Assorted pillows lined the back cabinets where students whispered gently or just reclined with eyes closed, others sat at desks coloring the mandalas I’d printed out, or softly played a game of cards.

I had called, “The Quiet Room.”

At my last school, I had learned the hard way that carnival days can be really frying for my nervous system.  I fall directly between intro- and extro-vert on most personality scales, and while I love a good carnival, amusement park, or festival, I learned that 2 hours of hyper-stimulation can wear me down to the bone — and I don’t bounce back quickly.

Therefore, last year, in my second year at that school, I volunteered to help out in The Quiet Room.  This room was an established zone staffed by a long-time teacher who’d earned, through her 30+year tenure, the right to staff The Quiet Room on chaos days.  Buuut, couldn’t she use a helper, in case she wanted to take a break, go to the bathroom…?

And thus, I inserted myself into the Quiet Room and my 2nd Purim carnival day was even as a still pond.

When it came time this year to volunteer to man different booths or rooms or stands… I knew it was my chance.  They didn’t have a Quiet Room at my new school!  The staff meeting was continuing on, I didn’t have a role yet, I raised my hand.

“What about having a quiet room for students who need a break?”

“Sure, that’s a great idea.”

And then, wouldn’t you know, all the other teachers began shouting, Ha! I’ll run the quiet room!  Yeah, sounds great — can I do it?

I pounced back.  Facetious or not, no one was taking this room from me!  “It was my idea!  I get to man it!” I shouted them down.  And so it was sealed.

When yesterday morning, during the melee, the big boss strode into my classroom to see what The Quiet Room was all about and sat nearby to make whispered conversation with me, she asked, “This was your idea?”

And for an instant, I froze inside.  I felt a little embarrassed, a little shy, to own my idea, especially knowing it was a good one.  My heartrate quickened as thoughts of hedging leapt forward to reply something like, “Well, the other teachers thought it was a good idea” or “Yeah, kinda.”

Yet, I didn’t respond that way.  I didn’t diminish my accomplishment; I didn’t allow myself to shy away from the spotlight of my boss’ opinion.

I rested calmly with my enormous mug warming my hands, took half a breath, and replied, “Yes.”

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action · clarity · fear

What’s the Hurdle?

run 2.20

As a Middle School teacher, I get the vast privilege of leading a cohort of students to see things differently, try on new ideas, and form new (hopefully positive) habits.

A few weeks back for their journal prompt, I instructed each class to draw 3 columns, the last of which to remain blank that day.  In the first column, they were to write any tasks or accomplishments that they’d been procrastinating on but that they wanted (or needed) to do.  In the second column, they were to write allll the reasons (real or imagined) why they could not complete these tasks.  The next day, they’d brainstorm with their classmates on how to get over the hurdle.

I gave them my own present example at the time:  Not completing my “Synonym Wall.”  In the classroom, I have taped colored slips of paper with “Bad” or “Said” or “A Lot” inside a “No” symbol, and then surrounded each with a plethora of alternatives for students to use.

But I stalled out.  I began this project in August(!) before the students arrived, and I still had “Nice” and “Good” to go.  Okay, so that’s column 1: Finish the Synonym Wall.  What’s column 2?  What are my hurdles?  Well…:  I was using these fancy scallop-edged scissors to cut out the synonyms, and the scissors are ill-effective and hurt my hand when cutting the strips.  I had been using a system of color coding each word group, and I wanted blue paper for “Good,” but I didn’t have any blue.  I was also using a colored-marker pattern I wanted to repeat, but that was feeling cumbersome and complicated.  Finally, now that it’s been so long, who cares whether it gets done; are the students even using it?

Hurdles for me can be MINOR(!!) inconveniences, like “the scissors hurt my hand,” or larger fears like, “My work makes no difference.”  Yet, whatever the hurdle is, I cannot overcome it if I do not identify it.  So, even though writing all these hurdles down made me feel a little silly and immature to see that I can be stymied by such gossamer blockades, I knew it would lead me to column 3.

“What the hell are you gonna do about it?”

In fact, that very afternoon, after having modeling this process to all 4 of my class sections—pointing to the Synonym Wall, reading the hurdles aloud, and considering again and again the hilarity of such stalled action—I went downstairs to a coworker’s materials closet and fetched whatever colored paper was available, grabbed any freaking Sharpie I had and a pair of OMG-so-non-hurty normal, straight-cut scissors, and COMPLETED the Synonym Wall!

The next morning when I modeled column 3 for my students, I was able to write down each of the above in “Overcoming the Hurdle.”  One Overcome I also got to write was, “I think the Synonym Wall is important, whether the students use it or not.”  And: “The perfect is the enemy of the done.”

I rewrote this last one on a sign that now hangs above the whiteboard. (In whatever color and on whatever color I had available!)

Every day, I could write a list of Tasks I Procrastinate, Hurdles, and Overcomings.  And maybe I should.  Because each of the remaining hurdles on that list 4 weeks ago have now too been vaulted.

 

 

faith · fear · fortitude · fulfillment

All Around the Mulberry Bush

may pole 8 10 17

It would be easy to imagine that after a decade of dancing around the May Pole of inner work that I would somehow have this thing figured out, dialed in.  And yet, as the streamers untangle, they reveal even more knotted, rotting coils beneath, ones that may have held their breath for years so as not to be detected, shaking with silent laughter, like a child at Hide and Seek.

And wouldn’t you know, all these years on, that I am still surprised at what bastardized hilarities still exist.  Hilarities that hinder, hamper, and hamstring.  (How’s that for alliteration!)  For example, this doozy:  I must choose between my own happiness and others’ — there is no room for both.  Which leads to this juicy bit: Family Life is a death sentence for the Soul.  Geez, dude.

I’ve been unraveling these desiccated bandages of my psyche lately for a purpose I never had before:  To attempt to become willing to create a family.  Some people call this, Falling in Love, Growing Up, or simply checking off the boxes of Life.

I call it Hanoi.

And so it is my job now to engage with those doubts and fears that tell me a life with others is a life of burden and sublimation.  I am to call to the dining table the ashy projection I’ve been worried is my future … and ask her to be willing to see things differently.  To introduce her to the parts of me and of the Universe (yes, that one) that are here expressly to help her hold her autonomy and verve and dreams alive, to blow breath into them, to guide her to a new vision of what Fulfillment can look like.

I do not want to be alone as I do my dream work, nor do I want to exchange it for listlessness.

There is another model, another way.  And I am sure, without doubt, this new way lies beneath the next layer of ancient, colored crepe.

deprivation · fear · joy · recovery · self-love · truth

Getting the F*ck off my Knees.

On Friday night at 10 minutes to midnight sitting in my parked car outside my apartment building, I was scrolling through Facebook on my phone.  I usually do this as a ‘before getting out of my car at the end of the night’ ritual.  I don’t know why.  Like I’m getting a few minutes’ alone time before I go into the house… but I live alone… with a cat. … so…  In any case, I came across a post about that evening’s blue moon, looked quickly at the clock and exclaimed, “Shit!”

I shut off my phone, dashed out of the car up to my apartment.  I took off my heels, slipped on flats, grabbed my loaner tambourine and climbed excitedly and nervously up the stairs to the rooftop of my building.

Pushing open the door, I saw before me a whitewashed roof with long pipes and what look like abandoned solar panels.  Dropping my keys by the door, I carried my tambourine to the center of the rooftop, shielding myself slightly from the view of neighboring buildings, and turned around to see the full, audacious moon before me. Then, I began to jangle the tambourine, and finally I began to sing.

…uh, what?

As I’ve come to the part of my recovery/internal work where we are instructed to “Humbly ask God to remove our shortcomings,” my mentor asked me how I’d done this step in the past. I told her I usually get on my knees and say some kind of prayer.

“Get the fuck off your knees!” she replied emphatically.

You see, I have a habit of being small.  Of minimizing myself, diminishing myself, down playing and ignoring my own needs out of fear and, mostly now, out of long-grooved practice.  This habit of deprivation and hiding causes many problems in my life, mostly because I am surely aware that I am not “meant” to be a mouse.

Being a mouse, though, often looks like me withholding my truths, not admitting what I really want from others and from myself and from life.  Things like. … I want to get married.  *gasp!*  It was near torture to say this aloud to her when we were discussing truths I never tell anyone.  It feels embarrassing to say it.  To feel it.  To want it. “I’m a modern woman, proud brave able! What a simpering, waif-like desire to have!,” goes my internal monologue.  And I wither to admit it to anyone else.

My mentor and I spoke at length that day, and she finally suggest-/insist-ed that I get a tambourine, dress up in something exciting and shout this truth, and all my others, to the heavens.

*Gulp*

So on Friday morning, two weeks after this suggestion, I finally obtained a borrowed tambourine (you’d be surprised how few there are around!).  I texted my mentor that tonight was the night!  And then I read online that it was also going to be a full moon, a blue moon in fact. This seemed most auspicious.  (For a woo-woo hippie shit chick like myself!)

The evening found me on the roof of my apartment building, fresh from a salsa lesson/live music dance in the city, in a hot dress and pulsing with feminine wiles, furtively tapping this noisemaker in my hand, trying not to feel embarrassed.

And then I began to sing.

I started softly and whirled myself into a crescendo, abandoning decorum, delighting in the jangle and thrill of the truth.  Gyrating, gesticulating, twirling around the rooftop, I sang loudly all the secret desires of my soul and my heart, echoing a refrain of, “I let go of being small!” and hammering wildly on the tambourine, an elegant, alight grin streaked across my face as I hopped lightly over the pipes, spinning around the roof until all my heart’s desires, all my tiny wishes I’m too ashamed to speak, had poured out of my throat and into the moonlit darkness.

Laughing, giddy, adrenalized, I headed back to the entrance door, calling brazenly to the bulbous moon: “Peace out, Blue Moon.”

faith · fear · recovery · spirituality

Float like a Waterbug, Sting like a Bee

It isn’t so much that I’m afraid of heights as it is I’m afraid
of falling from heights.  Therefore, when, 2 months ago, I found myself
in Moab, Colorado dangling on the side of sheer rock face
struggling to find a toe-hold in the millimeter-wide crannies, I began to
panic. 
Now, to pull back the scene a little bit, I was about 15 feet off the ground, strapped into a harness, and attached to a grounding line held by my belay partner only a few feet below.  But it didn’t feel safe.  It felt like I
was stabbing the rock cliff with my feet, trying desperately to find purchase in thin air,
my adrenaline kicking up so high I could taste it.
Muscle-fatigued and terrified, I called to my partner below that
I wanted to come down – I was done.  The rock climbing guide on our trip overheard my plea and walked over from the lines
and climbers parallel to me.  He
suggested that I sit back in the harness, take a break, feel my weight being
held, and catch my breath.  Then he called
up, “You can come down, but if you want to keep going, I’ll help you.” 
Later that evening, back on flat earth in front of a
crackling fire, he chuckled he could see my shoulders slump at that moment, a
moment of resignation, a knowing that, indeed, because of his help, I was going to and was able to keep going.  This sanguine moment of, “Shit, alright, fine.  Let’s do this.”  And, together, we did.  He called out places where I could find my
footing, and shortly thereafter I was at the top, my heart a fluttering canary,
stress-tears straining back in my eyes, weak from fear and exertion – and once
safely back the 60ft to the ground again, proud.
He told me of a concept called a “retro-climb.”  It is only after
you have accomplished this ridiculous feat of effort that you feel pride,
accomplished, and glad you did it at all. 
In the moment, you only feel fear, anxiety, terror.  Honestly, I’ve not felt so frightened in
recent memory, despite the intellectual knowledge that I was completely safe,
held, and cared for.  (My naturopath had
a field day turning down my maxed-out adrenaline once I’d returned to SF!)
In my own personal work lately, my mentor suggested I seek
an internal guide to show me my blind spots. 
As some of you know, I sometimes use a Shamanic Journey meditation
practice that introduces you to internal guides of both human and animal form.
And so, the other morning in meditation, I “went in” to find
a guide to show me what I’m missing, since there are whole areas of my life
that still feel unresolved and cause me distress (see: “romance and finance”; aka
serially single and perpetually under/un-employed).  In this meditation, as the title of this blog
may suggest, I came across a waterbug.
… Now, the waterbug does not
seem like the fancy-dancy spirit animal one would hope for!  It’s not a lion or eagle or even
antelope.  And yet, here it was.  I won’t “bore” you with the details of the
meditation, but the lesson was clear: 
The waterbug floats on the top of the water, not because it
is defying the law of physics, but
precisely because it knows, believes, and trusts in them so completely that it knows it will be held on the
surface.  It is not defying gravity, it
is embracing the truest knowledge that because of the laws of nature, it must and will always be held.
The rock climbing guide and I had a long conversation one
evening about spirituality, and he revealed that his largest question for “God”
or the Universe as he continued to expand his life and open his vulnerable self
and admit all parts of him was, “Can you really love me that much?”
I replied to him that my question is, “Can you really hold me that much?”  Can you really let me know, help me feel, to
my core, that I am held?  That I am
safe? 
The waterbug teaches me that it floats because it doesn’t tense and struggle.  It floats because it relaxes and trusts, and simply embodies a knowing that if it steps onto
the clear surface of a pond, it will be held. 
And furthermore, having seen that it has been held and carried before,
it doesn’t continue to question whether it will be held again in the
future! 
So this is my lesson for the moment: to embody the true
knowing that, like sitting back into a climbing harness, I am expertly and even
lovingly held.  And, should I ever choose
to question (as it can become a choice rather than a habit), there will always
be help offered me.
And p.s., if I mess up and tense up and fall through the
surface of the water… I can swim.
deprivation · faith · fear · recovery · self-denial · spirituality

The Facts of Life

Not like “the birds and the bees”; like the theme song: “You
take the good, you take the bad, you take them both and there you have…”
In this great rumpus race for which we have signed up by the
very nature of being born, we are subject to a variety of experience.  Some of these we deem good, some bad, and
being pleasure-seeking beings, we are partial to those we deem good.
In my own personal relationship to the universe, life, fate
and its many faces/facets, I have oriented my understanding to be one
that says, Everything happens for our own good. 
Even the bad things.
For my alcoholism, I have found recovery, a community, and
way of life that brings me fellowship, understanding, pleasure, laughter, and a
sense of being deeply understood.
For my childhood, I have come to tell myself that because of
my experiences, I’ve become sensitive, compassionate, empathetic, resourceful,
strong, and creative.
For my cancer, I have taken my struggle and survival as
impetus to engage in my life more fully, playing in a band, flying a plane,
acting and singing in theater.
For all these horrors and more, I can look back and deem them “good,”
because they have led me to becoming more useful and engaged as a human.
And yet.
Fuck. All. That.
That we are thrown against the shores of life brutally onto
the rocks of experience, shaping us, reshaping us, and winnowing us down to the
raw beauty of ourselves—  Hey Universe, would
you lay off a minute, huh?
Because perhaps, Shit. Just. Happens.
And that is the worst understanding of all for me.  It is the least controlled, the least
controllable, the most chaotic, disordered, entropy-laden reasoning for it all.
What it means is that we are not “safe.”  And if there is anything I have struggled for
in my lifetime, it is to feel safe.
But in this quest, this blazing, self-propelled quest for
safety, I have built up around myself an armor, a buffer, a multi-layered
sequence of dance steps that I believe if I dodge left, you, it, experience,
failure, hurt, calamity will needly dodge right.
Yet, the Universe has its own dancesteps, and sometimes they
are to bowl you over like a rhino in a football helmet.
Furthermore, by dodging experience as a whole –monstrous as
I believe or fear it to be– I also dodge whatever good that rhinoceros might be trying to hand me.  And therein lies the rub, eh?
As I mentioned a few days ago about the dam, restricting my
own self, need, and experience out of fear of what might happen if I let things
flow, I am scrubbing up against my own realization that I
am restricting myself for fear that bad shit might happen.  I am hoping to control the all of my
experience so I am not harmed anymore.
Because forget all the above bullshit (which I also happen
to believe) about all those bad things becoming or being seen as good things –
don’t fucking think that I want or wanted them too.  They were all still egregiously painful.  And, as I mentioned, human as I
am, I don’t want pain.
In my attempt to restrict my experience of pain, however, I
believe I restrict my experience of benevolence.  Grace. 
Fulfillment.
And so, I am stymied, victim of my own prison, of my own
design to be safe, I am restricted from the greater joys and rewards of life.
“You take the good, you take the bad… “
Am I willing to expose myself, to be vulnerable and open to
the whole of life’s experience, knowing that in my disarmoring, I am (also)
opening myself to unforeseen goodness?
authenticity · fear · truth

“Then that happened…”

This is what I said to my friend after I broke down on Friday night with the truth of how lost I’d been feeling. 
She said to me, You can’t do that. You can’t say something like what you shared, and then cover it up with a joke like it wasn’t important or true. 
And that’s what I want to do with today’s blog. I want to try to stem some of whatever reactions I believe you might have had to yesterday’s blog of anger and fear and isolation. Because no matter how I feel in a moment, I do need you greatly, and I want you to still like me and not to think that I’m a whiny, privileged person who’s lost perspective on the world. 
So, I’m going to try not to do that, to reverse any effects of what I said yesterday. And simply let it lie. 
I do know that my job is not scooping animal carcasses off the highway, or cleaning toilets, or any other job that many people have. I have friends who’ve lost children, husbands, gone bankrupt. I mean, I work at a high-end retailer in Union Square, not on a chain gang. And I’m going through cancer survivorship stuff, like I imagine and hope those of us who have to, do. 
I know, too, that in times like these, we all seem to lose some perspective, and I allow myself to have that for now, because I do know it will change. 
But, I guess I did need (or want) to put how I’ve been feeling out there, even in this impersonal forum, because it is the truth, and that’s what I tell here — with or without back-peddling. 

So, whatever reactions you might have had (because I can see from the stats page that many people did read that blog), I hope … well, I hope it’s okay I put the truth there. And I’m trying to let myself be okay with it, too.
“You can’t save your face and your ass at the same time.”