fear · growth · humor

Playing Possum with God.

9.28.18.jpgNope nope nope, not going, leave me here.  Out there is scary, unknown, this is fine.  I’m fine.  Nope, being impaled on my own self-doubt is fine.  I’m cool with the middling life that affords me just enough to feel nipped at by lack and struggle.  It’s fiiine, God.  Jesus, lay off.  I built this whole small life myself, man!  I have small passions I follow briefly then abandon, that’s good because I don’t get too good at anything and won’t make anyone feel uncomfortable, and I won’t be judged, and I can continue to call myself a Master of None (you know, if Aziz Ansari is okay with it).

Wait?  What’s that noise?  No, you heard it… it’s faint, listen hard, you have divine hearing for chrissake.  There!  It’s someone else!  I think they need me!  Yep, uh huh, they totally need me.  Omigod, Phew.  See, I’m just going attend to them first, it’s cool — HA!  See, I’m totally doing something.  Can’t fault me now!  Well, they may not have actually said that they need me, but I’m sure that they do.  I’m just going to psychicly mine them for any point of lack or fault so I can go charge in with my spackle.  Nah, it’s cool, wearing cargo pants is totally how I want to go out into the world, a utilitarian life that plods inexorably toward death.  It’s fine!

Yes, I heard you.  Yes, I see these open doors, these other options, but whatever, this is easier.  Yes, I said easier.  No, it’s not hard to shrink back and pretend to be something otherwise.  I’ve been doing it for most of my life, so why wouldn’t it be okay?  No, I already told you this is comfortable, my legs and arms twisted into a grotesquery of hiding and smallness — I’m good here.

What do you want from me??  Let go!

You and your choir of angels and highfalutin’ abundance talk and shiny opportunities can go fart in your soup.  This is the level at which I’ve been raised, it’s the level at which I’ve built a life, why would I give it up?  I’ve staked so much on this smallness of being.  My whole identity is wrapped up in believing and projecting that I am less, have less, do less, feel less than I actually am.  What are you asking of me??  I feel really exposed, here, you know.  Pulling my covers like this is not very courteous.

Yes, I seeeee what you’re showing me.  I see that you’re offering a different way, but what about this one?  It’s like Tom Hanks leaving his island in Castaway — do you know what kind of mourning there is when you’re leaving the inappropriate but familiar place you’ve build with your BARE HANDS!?  And now you want me to just leave it?  Crazytalk.

Alright God, Okay.  Okay!, Whatever.  I’m looking.  I don’t know exactly what you want me to do yet — and I’m making NO promises — but I’m looking.  I’m not completely listening yet, but I’m looking.  Go fart yourself.

 

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fear · humility · vulnerability

Be vewwy qwiet…

It’s really uncomfortable to bear witness to others’ humanity.

What happens on the flip-side of that is I don’t generally allow others to bear witness to my own.  Not the struggling parts, the messy parts, the parts that don’t have it all figured out.

The registered shock from coworkers when I share I’m barely holding it together, that I’m making it up as I go, that I don’t feel like I have it all together reinforces my inextricable adoption of the “Look Good.”

“But you seem so confident, you seem always on top of things, you seem so ‘together.'”

It’s all a facade, I tell them with a laugh and a smirk.

But what is that facade?

What is the protective layer I anchor around myself so that others can’t see me squirm?

I always want to clean up others’ mess.  I take on more at work because I think there’s a cleaner way.  I’m told to (literally) “Stay out of his closet” by a close friend when I dated a man whose home was … gross.  I bear witness to someone’s suffering, but hold my breath so I don’t catch any.

I want it all neat and tidy because it’s so hard to be with the mess.  The mess of others, and the mess of myself.

It’s. So. Vulnerable.  To tell someone I work with that I’m struggling.

I once worked in a job where I was told to buy a digital camera for another coworker.  Because I didn’t know how to go about that (it was the early internet days), and because I didn’t have a budget or specifications, I kept putting it off.

I would get calls from that coworker asking for its status, and I would say I’m working on it.  Though I was totally frozen on how to move forward, I did not say that.  I put on my Look Good and said I was on it.

About a month later my big boss came to ask me if it were true that I hadn’t gotten the camera yet.  I froze.  I don’t remember what I said in the moment, but I do know it was within that week that I quit that job.

Yes, the job was not my dream one, but the idea that in order to avoid feeling caught, seen, vulnerable, or “stupid” I would quit a job to protect myself from being a visible mess??  Wow.

I went out with a group of coworkers after school yesterday, and I felt like I didn’t have enough to say, enough to share.  I didn’t have a list of cool things to tell them I was doing.  I didn’t have a list of national parks I’d been to.  I didn’t have kids to talk about.

I felt awkward.  I was fine (I assume they didn’t notice because my Look Good skills are cold steel), but it reminded me of that first/last date I had a month ago where I felt like a cement-tongued wallflower, unable to name one cool thing I was up to… or one real thing about myself.

On the phone this morning with a friend, she said there’s consistently a ton of stuff that I can and want to share about.  “You write a blog every day!” she exclaimed.  Clearly, I’m not at a loss for what’s going on with me, what realizations I’m having, or how I’m bumping against things or overcoming them.

But somehow, that fact never shows up in answer to, “What are you up to?”

Sharing that stuff feels … inappropriate?  Like I won’t be met, so why bother?  Like, nobody wants to hear about it, so shut up?

Ugh.  The ugliness of how we treat ourselves.

I went to graduate school, in part, to begin to move my writing from “the page to the stage,” to get out of the quiet cocoon that is a notebook and begin to share with an audience.  In those moments, I felt like my humanity was valuable, but only because it was for similar people involved in similar projects.  In the “outside” world — in person — is my writing of value?  Are my insights “appropriate”?

If I think my own messiness and vulnerability and humanity are gross and need to be shielded off from the urbane eyes of the world, then I will never launch into my life in the way I desire to.  If I look at the mess of others, personally and professionally, and judge their messes as disgusting and in need of immediate repair, this is just a mirror of how I think they will perceive my own.

I hide and alienate when I want to share and connect.  But to share and connect is to be vulnerable, so I hide and alienate.  Repeat.

What is the value of humanity?  What is the value of messiness, of the power of our flaws and vulnerability to connect us?

What value is there in a Look Good if all it does is look good?

 

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.”

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.