28 December 2010

Giving Up - NOT a New Year's Resolution

So, I arrived home from several days with family and friends, from Christmasing with the ones I love, and noticed that my usual "glad to be home, to have time to and for myself, grateful for the peace, and especially the quiet of my solitary home" feeling didn't greet me at the door! What the . . . ?

In truth I stumbled over a want, a desire, for someone to welcome me. It was lying there just inside the door to the kitchen - and, I swear, that damn desire grabbed my ankle as I walked by.

Oh yes, I tried telling myself that this was just the decompression from nearly a week around others - but self wasn't having any of it. In Arkansas they used to say (probably still do) "that dog won't hunt." Trying to explain my way out of this wanting just wasn't working.

A couple of days of trying to fight the feeling, denying that it was about what I knew it was about, telling myself that it would pass - all that jazz involved in trying - once more - to push myself - and today I just quit!

I give up pretending that this is a natural reaction to being around others.
I give up trying to convince self that this will go away.
I give up all attempts to convince self that this longing can be filled by other activities.
Mostly I give up beating self up for wanting something I can't get through my own efforts.

T'would be nice to tell you - and the self sitting here shaking because I've actually written about this - that I know what I'm gonna do about this - and even nicer to be able to have faith that what I want might actually manifest. But all I can say, in truth, is that I'm giving up trying not to want what I want. I guess that's a start.

21 December 2010

Not Proud

I interviewed for a position today that really intrigues me. Part of the intrigue (but only part) has to do with a question the interviewer asked.

"Tell me about a time you aren't proud of, and what you did with or about it."

I don't think I've ever had a question worded just that way before. Sure, I've had an interviewer ask me to relate a mistake I've made - but never was it phrased in the way this was. Admitting a mistake is one thing - but a time when you weren't proud of yourself reeks of something personal - something shameful. What you choose to talk about can't help but tell a WHOLE lot about you - how you see yourself, what your fears are, what you want that other person to think of you.

How would you respond? Would you actually answer the question that was asked, or talk about a mistake made or problem solved instead?

I did - at least - reply honestly rather than deflecting the question into one I was more comfortable with. There's a time to be proud of. But the question itself seems to be taking me on a journey through all the times I didn't tell her about. The times I've actually treated people coldly - out of fear I couldn't let myself feel, even the times I've slunk away rather than let out my anger at someone's mistreatment.

I am often amazed by the way each day offers lessons in self-knowledge. I guess that really is the work of, and for, a lifetime. I do hope I get the job I was interviewing for. But then I also hope not to have to become too busy to continue contemplating, meeting, and accepting myself.

This becoming a grown up, perfectly imperfect human can really drain one.


15 December 2010

Wednesday Morning - So Far

Coming in from the cold I'm wearing three layers, top and bottom. When you enter the coffee shop through the back door you walk first by the roastery/office. Cain is roasting today. The smell of baked earth greets me.
Behind the counter three barristas stand around in a semi-circle. They are bent slightly at the waist, looking down. Aaron says "Oh Yeah! Nothin's gettin' through this baby." Jesse laughs in agreement.
That wakes me up, as the cold hasn't.
Later, the remains of donuts at my right hand, I'm feeling overheated beneath my layers. Unfamiliar music over the speakers includes a rather operatic woman's voice - two of the patrons laugh, begin to howl like dogs til Jesse manipulates the iPod to the next song.
Each small task online is complete. Other errands require re-emergence into the frigid day - entering traffic I anticipate with dread. Tonight we are forecast all manner of winter precipitation, and already grocery shelves will be stripped of milk and bread. Sitting here pleases me - like stretching long and lazy in bed, taking my time to enter the waking world.

08 December 2010

Where You Stumble

I'm good at pushing - really, really good at it. What do I mean by pushing - attempting to MAKE something happen, to change how things are, to FORCE, direct or otherwise manipulate to get what I want, or what I think I want.

What I'm best at pushing is myself. Lots of practice. Lots of opportunity. The curse of perfectionism, probably a lot of other isms as well

I've given up pushing myself to stop pushing - accepted that there's a Gatekeeper (who will identify itself only as The Critical One) of long residence who will probably always - automatically - give the first shove just about the time I start feeling comfortable with how things are - with how I see myself and my life. I've figured that fighting this G. - trying to get rid of it - is REALLY a waste of energy - sort of like the pushing.

But I've also figured out how to catch the pushing before it gets me deep in the poo that I used to live in all the time. And somehow it seems as if the Gatekeeper doesn't fight back so hard at being caught as it does if I try to stop its energy in the first place. Makes sense really - at least to me. Kind of like a little kid who will throw the tantrum of the year at being told "no" but who will behave more civilly if just given some time or space to do what they want for a while.

What brought all of this up is the understanding I came to only yesterday that I'd been pushing myself to submit poems and other pieces for any number of wrong reasons.

I'd been noticing for a while that I really seemed to have little to say, in writing, to 'the world' - example #1 being that I just couldn't think of things I wanted to blog about. Oh sure, something would show up in my day that I'd connect to and write about - but I didn't feel any juice for getting it in shape to share.

Then there were my dreams. Night after night I'd show up in a scenario where my words and actions took me to the front of a group, into a leadership position with everyone expecting me to produce, to get results - but without the tools necessary to the job and, most notably, by acting as an automaton. Then, when things fell apart, predictably, everyone and everything that was important TO ME about what I was doing was derided and scorned.

Clearly my energy for what I wanted and needed was being subverted into the "shoulds" I was following instead.

Even my Morning Pages - Julia Cameron's term for the journalling we need to do whether we are doing our 'real' writing or not - were telling me what I wanted to be writing, and to whom. There I noticed that each day's pages read like letters to some aspect of myself - even to the Critical One Gatekeeper - asking questions so common to letters.

I'd been submitting pieces to 'others' - to journals and contests - when I needed to be writing to, and for, myself. And I'd been doing it because of the 'shoulds' and because pushing myself to accomplish, to justify the time I spent writing, to 'act like' a 'real' writer (whatever that means) is what the Gatekeeper does so that I won't spend the time and energy going down into the abyss of myself. The G. will do anything to keep me out of there.

Yes, I only saw most of this yesterday. But then, nearly immediately, and inexplicably, as usually happens, I got some assistance from an unexpected source which helped the lesson deepen. In the daily quotes that show up in my e-mail I found the following - and it all fell together.

It is by going down into the abyss that we recover the treasures of life. Where you stumble, there lies your treasure.

- Joseph Campbell

14 November 2010

Coffee Shop - Sunday Afternoon

Maybe it's because I'm still drunk from last night's wine, lustily imbibed and heartily enjoyed (I've decided that the word "hangover" is just a way of prettying up what is, really, still being drunk).
Maybe I'm just very aware of the difference in age between my middle aged self and the rest of the people here.
Whatever it is - what sounds, in the title, like a peaceful way to spend a Sunday afternoon is, today, an experience in sorting through the cacaphony of fifty different conversations, the clicking of 28 keyboards (I just counted them), and the various sounds involved in preparing and pulling espresso shots. The noise, for that's what all of it adds up to, has a wave-like quality - added to by the music coming out of four well placed speakers - that is giving this experience a rhythm and metre that I wish I could capture in my writing.
Now the blender, someone's ordered another iced drink, comes in to the mix - just as the two neighborhood pre-teen girls come in the door. They show up every time the barrista Tristan is working - their joint crush on this young man clearly visible on their faces, in their postures. And now all conversations drop off at once, one of those moments when, if someone farted, we'd all hear it clearly.
Do I have a point here? Not so sure - as my still drunk brain refuses to produce separate thoughts, discrete ideas - responds only "rabble, rabble, rabble" when I ask it to organize and make sense of what its experiencing.
Perhaps the point is about having reached an age when a wall of sound is heard as just a wall. Perhaps I'm struggling to live with the fact OF my age, that I really ought not drink so much, ought to have better sense. Alas, it seems that I don't - and really can't get too concerned about it.
Perhaps the point ISN'T to worry about what the point is - but to observe, to allow my senses and psyche to be affected by where I am in this moment, to stop demanding that my brain figure out the "whys" of the experience and simply be with what the experience IS.

08 November 2010

Being in the World

This weekend just past - a writers' retreat just outside of Louisville, but with a feeling of remoteness from the city and its rapid pace. And then there was the retreat aspect - time to sit on a bench in the chill, under a maple still half possessed of its orange leaves - time for early morning walks with no deadline, no clock telling me it is time to shower and get in the car.
Jeeze - listen to me - you'd think I worked full-time and led a hectic life! But seriously, there is a deepening of joy to be found in time taken in nature, and around people who create. For of course the most affecting aspect of the weekend was being around poets - who are often nit picky about more than just the right word or whether or not a comma works in a certain spot - and who always strive for clarity and for that gem-like object we call a poem.
The juiciness of the smallest piece of experience seems to drip in my sight and smell and hearing when I'm around these people, whose passion is to create, and who willingly, even eagerly, put in the hours and use up the paper to get the result we call poem.
Returning to the world from these retreats always seems like returning from Oz - like I used to flying back from California after school weekends. I have to remind myself to be careful on the drive, to watch vigilantly - because, emotionally for sure, I am still on retreat.
Then today - observing a sand mandala construction at the Festival of Faiths here in town. Though observing is incorrect, the wrong verb. But what is the right one for this experience?
This is my third mandala. And with each one the same gestalt is re-made, re-entered, and yet somehow experienced as for the first time. Different populations don't seem to affect the experience, nor do variants in the location or the time of day I am able to attend. I guess the verb I was needing to use instead of observing was experiencing.
If you've never had the opportunity to experience a mandala construction, take the next one you get. It's actually rather indescribable - but I can put a bit of it into words.
First is the rare physical sensation of calm - peace if you like - that moves from the mandala, out through the monks, and into the entirety of the space. It comes over me in the same way, or nearly so, as the grains of colored sand are placed in position - through the slightest of motions and the clearest of intentions that weren't even evident before settling into the space from which I watch. There is an obvious, but always unexpected, feel of heart at rest, of the blood's motion proceeding at its natural pace - both too often lacking in the daily round we call life.
Then come the images, the memories of sound and smell and hearing that somehow don't seem to be personal. The closest I can come to defining them is that they are what Jung called collective unconscious - some connective memory that we - individually - haven't experienced, but know, nevertheless.
Usually, and today was no exception, I discover - when I first find my body needing to move - that I've sat or stood for over an hour without awareness of time passing. Or maybe I've fallen into time in a whole new way - I don't know. What I do know is that when the monks are ready to stop I always feel as if I'm supposed to either go with them or stay in the space where this experience lives. But the world outside has not gone away - and I must re-enter it after all.
I try to do so carefully - in the same way I leave retreat - in the same way I used to leave school weekends. I also find that I see this world outside differently than before I went in. People's faces seem so angry to me, their movements so unsure. There appears to be more, and noisier, traffic than ever. Most interesting of all is that I seem able to observe all of this and not feel anger or sadness about it. Nor can I join back into this hard-edged world with much energy or any will to change it.
The more of these experiences I have, the greater my appreciation of the incredibly rich gifts I am graced with. Yes, me, myself, Mary Jo - who has often bemoaned so much of what life has presented her with - is learning, gradually, to see herself as the Being in the World she was meant to be - always was.

25 October 2010

Life, friends, is boring.

It's the birthday of John Berryman, poet and teacher. I've always related to him because he struggled - obviously as an alcoholic, and less overtly with depression - which he dealt with through his writing.
I try to remember, when I feel leaden in the world and despairing of any future easiness, that creative people are often creative because of the dark vision they carry - or have lived inside of. It's difficult, this attempting to recall the impetus for wanting, hell, for needing to write. The world in which I was raised, the world I tried so valiantly to fit in to, the world where so many people seem so comfortable and happy to exist on the surface - this world had me convinced that my darkness, my ironic viewpoint, my deeps were to be hidden rather than written down and shared.
Shaking off this conviction has been the work of my last few years. I'm better for the shaking, but still fall back into the belief that my experience and what I have to write about are not really wanted by the world - at least occasionally.
So I'm glad to be reminded today of Berryman's Pulitzer for the 77 Dream Songs - and these lines that He wrote in "Dream Song 14":
Life, friends, is boring. We must not say so.

After all, the sky flashes, the great sea yearns,

we ourselves flash and yearn,

and moreover my mother told me as a boy

(repeatingly) 'Ever to confess you're bored

means you have no

Inner Resources.' I conclude now I have no

inner resources, because I am heavy bored.

Peoples bore me,

literature bores me, especially great literature,

Henry bores me, with his plights & gripes

as bad as achilles,

who loves people and valiant art, which bores me.

And the tranquil hills, & gin, look like a drag

and somehow a dog

has taken itself & its tail considerably away

into mountains or sea or sky, leaving

behind: me, wag.

10 October 2010

Watch This Space

Last week I realized I hadn't posted for almost a month. The truth is that it's been a busy time, with observing and serving the end of life process of a friend's mother, with a new year of medical education ramping up, and with [finally - thank the Spirit] temperatures easing down so that outdoor activity is again possible rather than simply suicidal.
The whole truth is that what's been going on in my life, what I've been choosing to put time and energy into, has been strongly triggering loads of unfinished business. Times like these, at least in the past, haven't allowed much energy or brain power for either writing or sharing - this one seems to be running along parallel lines. It's nothing but the truth to say that, while I know this will pass, and I'll be back to attempting to run, or at least comment on the world - to giving you my opinion, whether you want it or not - for now it seems the requirement is for an inside job.
So - I can't say when I'll post again - but - in the spirit of autumn, of dying and rest and the sleep of long cold nights soon to be with us - I have faith that a time of the juicy sap of life slowing down is just what is needed.
Unusual for me - I offer the ultimate sign of hope - WATCH THIS SPACE!

14 September 2010

It's Not Supposed To Be Hard

The last couple of weeks I've felt sort of like Sysyphus (did I spell that correctly?). Not the weight of the world, but some pretty heavy stuff of my own has been rolling down since I last wrote here. Lessons, lessons - is that all there is in life? But, as my friend Bill says, what if that's all we're here for anyway - what if we only THINK it's not supposed to be hard?

In a nutshell -
* I'm learning, from spending time at the home of a woman in hospice care, that I push myself harder than my body will allow. Now, if you know me, this won't come as any big shock. Sure I come by it honestly - having had to suck it up and make do early in life - but nowadays my body say's "uh, uh" when I think I can do something that is stressful for six days in a row. The upside - one night last week I gave myself permission to sleep 13+ hours. It was marvelous.
* Because of the training I've been doing (seven weeks) at the Center for Women & Families I've been getting a LOT of practice in listening. Yeah, this frustrates me, a lot. I LIKE to be heard, and the little girl in me WILL be heard. But I've become aware that, if I just sit with her protestations that SHE HAS SOMETHING TO SAY TOO, then eventually what she needs to say separates itself from what she just wants to throw out there. This takes a lot of silent sitting time, and listening to what others are saying. I'm getting better at it too.
* As always my wonderful daughter, Sarah, is one of the best and most loving and efficacious teachers I have. I finally got to visit with her this past weekend (it hadn't happened since June!) and also got the chance to just observe and feel joy about how Sarah moves in and through the world. The dance that takes her through her days has its own music, and ranges in her body with such a uniquely Sarah sort of energy. I can't take credit for the fabulous woman she is, but I can recall that I always encouraged her authenticity, and allowed her feelings - even more readily than I would allow my own for all those years. I learn so much about loving with Sarah. And we shared a delicious Sav's Atketke (now I KNOW I spelled that wrong) salad while I was in Lexington.
* Writing is easy - it's submitting your writing to contests or for publication that's hard! But I've almost got all the entries ready for the Green River Writers contest - whew! - and have been developing some new work as well. I think my poems have taken a turn somewhere - my voice seems to be shifting. Maybe it's because I'm getting more confidence IN my own, true, voice all the time! I'm trying not to push, to let it develop, to just WRITE without judging. Hard. But empowering too. Fierceness and courage - at 58!

Hmmmm - did I say life was hard? These don't sound so onerous after all.

29 August 2010


Throughout my educational experiences – a bachelors in English/Political Science, a masters in Library Science, and finally (so far) a masters in Psychology – I’ve been fortunate to have teachers who referred to books, articles, plays, music, and art. I’d jot down titles, authors, ideas in my notes during class – telling myself that, when I had time, I’d get around to these works. Mostly I didn’t pursue them. Life and commitments would become more important. Or maybe I just got lazy.
But since completing the requirements of my most recent degree I made a point of going back through all my notes, making a list of every reference. It covered five pages. For the last year I’ve been trying to get to one or more of these suggestions each month.
I’ve been lucky, not working full-time, to have the time for this. Lucky too that I needed to try to maintain the connection to the school and the people – the totality of that experience that permitted me to grow in ways I’d never imagined before. In attempting to hold on to this growth and encourage it to continue, by reading the books and articles, by searching for the music and art, by journaling on my responses to it, by including the images in poetry and prose, I’ve been able to continue on this path that feels right for me.
I’ve started to understand lately that, although I began this project as a search for certainty, as a way to confirm the connection between myself and the school, the teachers, the folks in my cohort even though I am geographically distant; what I am receiving through my reading is a continuing connection to uncertainty. That’s appropriate, and really should come as no surprise – since the crux of the program and the process of learning and living in it was about opening to the uncertainty that lives in each of us.
The gift – one among many – I received from entering the fifteenth cohort at school [if you’re interested in exploring go to www.meridianuniversity.edu ] was of accepting the unacceptable – of appreciating and responding to the uncertain, the fearful, the dependent, the needing person that I am. In the acceptance and response I find, we each find, that all those aspects of self that we have been taught and acculturated to hide, to see as weak and undesirable are really the gifts we have to offer to the world.
Right now I’m reading two titles from my five page list that beautifully and elegantly address uncertainty. One is “The Field Guide to Getting Lost” by Rebecca Solnit. The second is “Yearnings: Embracing the Sacred Messiness of Life” by Irwin Kula.
In “Yearnings” Kula refers to a story I’d never encountered, not having been raised in Judaism. It’s a Talmudic story of how God created and destroyed ten worlds before the one we have now. Why He destroyed them – because each was disappointing, not what He had envisioned, an utter failure. What a different vision of God! A God who was, Himself, uncertain – who desperately needed to get it “right.”
Even this world (in our times wouldn’t it be labeled World 11.0?) that He made, He nearly also destroyed. Yes, the one we have now didn’t seem up to snuff for its Creator – was nearly thrown on the trash heap. But the Talmud tells us, says Kula, that God paused. He thought about it, and realized that just because He had created it did not mean he could predict or control it. Even God had to live with the uncertainty that what He did was “good enough.”
God paused. And because of that we have everything from the Garden, through the apple, the flood, and all the way to where we are today. Hmmmm.

23 August 2010

Change of Venue

I don't trust epiphanies, sudden revelations, or even the so-called breakthroughs that seem to accompany peak experiences.
Certainly I've had my share of moments of insight that seemed to provide an answer I've been looking for, even if I didn't know I was looking for it. But upon reflection I've been able to see that I'd been preparing to receive the answer for some time, and that the universe's lessons had been giving me pieces of it all along.
And, really, it seems as if those flashes of insight, those moments that seem to give an answer to some cosmic $64,000 question, often aren't as satisfying as we always think they'll be anyway.
Maybe it's maturity, or maybe just letting go of some of the existential angst over the years, but it seems like the older I get the more I appreciate the experiences in life that bestow questions, rather than answers, upon me. It seems that it's in the times when I have no certainty, nothing that could remotely be described as an answer, the times that generate questions inside - those are the times and experiences from which I learn the most.
I'm in one of those times just now, one of those places I just hate being in.
The overwhelming and incessant heat of this summer has forced me to an acceptance of my own physical fragility, but, at the same time necessitated an enhanced self care from which this body I've often resented has gained great benefit. My dream journeys have shone a light on being lost, on the fear I've tried to keep a secret from all - including myself - that craziness is somehow a built-in component of my psyche. Yet those dreams have also helped me see that the daily, conscious, journey I'm on is right - for me, even if others don't get it.
Questions abound. Answers are in short supply. The choice between madness and insanity.
I've spent most of my life swimming against the current trying to push everything to get where, and what I wanted. At those times when I ran out of energy I would tread water awhile, still determined though to get where I firmly believed I was supposed to end up. A lot of water up my nose and gasping for air - but would I quit?
Now? Well, I think I'll try floating. Let the river take me where IT wants me to go.

19 August 2010

Yeah, baby

What could I POSSIBLY add.

Having Tantrums

Yesterday Rosie threw herself on the floor, kicking her tiny feet against the carpet until one Velcro-fastened shoe flew off, bucking her short torso in waves and circles, moves that a break dancer works months to master. The biggest, loudest meltdown of her fifteen months seemed to pull the plug on her mother’s energy – and before breakfast.
If you’ve had a child, or been around one on a daily basis, and that child has been powerfully, absolutely loved, adored and wanted you might have seen such a tantrum. If that child has been in your care you might well have stood there – watching, thinking you ought to stop it. You may even have wondered if there’s something wrong with this kid – or wrong with yourself as a parent. Toddler tantrums are scary. Guilt is a mother’s constant companion – whether the child is easy or challenging.
The reality is that all children are challenging. Especially when they’re as young as Rosie, the life force manifests powerfully and primitively, taking over their tiny body that wants, wants wants – whether it is attention, control, or breakfast. I don’t know about Rosie, but for most of us, I think, the sudden explosion of anger is a way to lay down the gauntlet, a challenge. A tantrum is an overwhelming force against what we perceive as an immovable object in our path. The object can be outside of us – in the form of a parent who is saying “wait.” Or it can be inside – a need to find out what will happen if I scream and hold my breath.
The reality is that we’re all this challenging. The child, the keeper of the powerful and primitive life force , lives in us no matter what our age. We find this out at times when we receive one of “God’s kisses” – when we are cut off suddenly in traffic, when the stress and responsibility piles up at work, when we’re standing helpless watching our child have a tantrum.
As adults we have, hopefully, learned not to throw ourselves to the floor and kick and scream. But sometimes – tell the truth now – don’t you want to? I do. Sometimes I’ll settle for muttering “asshole” or flipping off the driver who cut me off. But equally will I fantasize, or dream, about laying waste to the landscape or the person. Even more – I’ll feel this need to just lie down on the floor and howl when it all piles up around me and I get tired of trying. I imagine just lying there, having my nervous breakdown until someone comes and rescues me.
Of course I don’t. Even when I permit myself to cry in frustration, when the stresses of life pile up, I do it in private, or in therapy, with a trusted other.
But I can imagine the relief, the pure visceral experience of letting loose - allowing my libido, my life force to erupt, getting back to the basics of human experience, testing the waters of life, to see if they will hold me.

17 August 2010

The Watery Essence of Soul

"We may worry about death but what hurts the soul most is to live without tasting the water of its own essence."
- Rumi
Today I sent off an essay - the topic: how growing up in an alcoholic home has "made me who I am today." Whether or not it gets published, and it looks as though it might be included in a book of other such essays, writing this was one of those learning experiences that we often look back on, and shake our heads, say "damn - what was that about!"
I had dream visits from my father -dead for nearly 25 years - and my mother - dead for 4 - in which their displeasure at my audacity in writing about this topic was clearly communicated. Odd thing was that - in the dreams at least - I kept my composure, and generally just felt sorry for them. Now THAT'S progress. I won't try to pretend there weren't tears during the writing or that it was easy. On the contrary, the gatekeepers - those voices/personas/presences that try to keep us safe by discouraging us from taking risks - were tuned up and pulling out all their tricks during the writing.
But, you know, once you get a bit of recovery from any emotionally traumatizing experience, at least a modicum of experience that reminds you that NOW ISN'T THEN, a bit of emotional padding around those places that have been so tender from wounding, then it does seem that the gatekeepers don't have so much power. Or it isn't so devastating as it used to be.
Once again, please don't think for a nano-second that I've got this figured out - or that I'm gonna start using words like: whole, healed, certain, or even fully loved. But it does seem that each experience builds on those gone before, that putting the focus on the only person I CAN understand and have ANY hope of helping - ME - actually does help things get less chaotic and make more sense.
My god, could all those therapists and people around 12-Step tables have been right! Who knew.

12 August 2010


Recently I’ve been spending time with the mother of a friend who is dying of cancer, sitting with her to give her husband and son a break from constant caregiving. I’ve also been training to work with the Center for Women and Families, an organization that supports and provides services for those who have lived with domestic violence, and those who’ve undergone sexual abuse or rape.
Certainly I’m subject to feelings of sadness in both experiences, of anger, fear, and even, at times, a sense of despair. But it’s not all these so-called negative emotions. Laughter often arises as I sit at the bedside of the dying woman, as we speak of her son and his dog. And through sharing with others at the training sessions I find validation of my own experiences and recovery. I’m reminded that it’s all grist for the mill of living, that lessons most often come in the form of ‘kisses’ from the universe that feel like getting smacked upside the head by a two-by-four.
When I was still working in colleges, the kids used to say, “it’s all good.”
The intensity of these experiences has resulted in some powerfully interesting dreams, as well as rebellions in my body. You can imagine. Although I knew, going in, that I’d need to take excellent care of myself during these experiences; I hadn’t fully understood the necessity for creating a container for the experiences themselves.
I’m not speaking here of a way to separate myself from the experience. I don’t mean walling off the emotions that arise at the dying woman’s bedside, or distracting myself from the anger I feel when, during the training, we watch a film about children who’ve lived with violence.
What I’m talking about, in creating a container, is creating a way to hold the experience within me, to be affected by it naturally yet without surrendering to emotionality. A safe space in which I can feel what I feel, in which the others within the experience can understand their feelings as valid and worthy of expression, and in which all concerned have the opportunity to receive the ‘kisses’ from the universe that are so necessary to being fully human without feeling overwhelmed by them or alone in them. That’s the sort of container I’m talking about.
Ultimately it’s about community.
Yet I’m not talking about what passes for community in our culture currently. There is no container for experience when most are weak and powerless and the few are in charge – deciding what the majority are to do, even telling them what to feel.
Within the container where each person has safety to let an emotion arise naturally because they understand it will not be dismissed or negated; each is equal. If I distance myself from the dying woman’s fear of letting go, try to assuage her fear or even distract her from it, I set myself up as powerful, because I am not, currently, in her shoes. If I do that I make her into a sort of child to be taken care of. Yet, if I can enter fully into the experience of being with her, of allowing her presence and her emotions to affect me, trusting my own emotional reflexes – not reactions, but responses – we become a community.
Container creation requires risk. In our culture we are encouraged toward strength, or the pretense of it, rather than vulnerability. Trusting our emotions is, for many of us, both unfamiliar and negatively charged.
For most of my life I believed that letting myself feel even the tiniest bit sad was going to result in falling apart completely, until someone would have to call the men with the straightjackets, to haul me off to a padded room in some mental hospital. It’s only been relatively recently I began, with much loving help. and by being open to the lessons life kept offering me, to risk opening and expressing. None of us does this alone, even if we do it in private.
Again I return to the need for witnessing.
I arrived home last night from a training session in which we had explored the question of “why don’t women just leave” when they’re being abused. I opened myself to remembering, cried into my solitary pillow about the years I stayed, the years I wasted. But this private grief does not heal without allowing it a place in my experience, just as the actions I’m grieving have their place. It must be shared, has been at times, will be again when I begin the work of serving others who have inhabited a life of violence. Not that I will, or should, tell them of my experience. Rather, I must try continually to risk trusting the multi-layered and multi-faceted person I am always becoming, risk believing in the safety and holding of the container that gets created whenever and with whomever we share our authentic selves.

09 August 2010

People Count

Every ten years the United States conducts a census of population and housing. The year I graduated high school, 1970, my first job was as a census coder – filling the small dots on census forms, boxes and boxes of them, at a warehouse frigid in winter and sticky in summer.
In 2010 I worked as a census Enumerator – walking door to door, attempting to learn the number of people, if any, who lived at particular addresses. These were addresses from which no census form had been received, so finding people presented difficulty, meant going again and again to the same houses, to neighboring houses if necessary. Often, when someone finally answered the door, I was told, “We’re not participating.”
Enumerators were instructed to tell everyone that complying with the census is the law. With those who refused to participate I saw no point in bringing up law, in attempting to coerce their participation. My reasons were mostly those of respect – as Americans we are raised on our right to refuse – as adults we have a right to refuse attempts at intrusion into our business, into our lives. I figured that, if there was to be a punishment or penalty for non-participation, I was not empowered or authorized to threaten people with it. I was simply to count those who cooperated.
Most did cooperate, but of those who didn’t I began - after weeks of ‘walking the streets,’ as my sister called it – to understand something of their reasons. These people, it seemed to me, didn’t want to be counted because they didn’t believe THAT they counted.
Perhaps I saw in those people something that wasn’t there. After all this is a time of Tea Party emergence, of town hall meetings where rage erupts at what is seen as too much government, when people seem more angry and fearful than empowered. Yet I kept returning to a sense, each time I encountered refusals, that people didn’t want to be included because they didn’t think it mattered if they were. A short-sighted view, but, to me, this seeing oneself as if they do not matter was all too comprehensible, and way too familiar.
You may think I took this all too personally. In one sense you would be correct. But, as the early feminist movement reminded us, “the personal is political.” We see the world from inside a psycho-spiritual, an imaginal, structure we have each built, based on our personal experiences of safety, of individual importance, of our right to exist in that world. From the inside of our structures we look out at the world as we imagine it to be – based on our experiences – and act or react according to what we imagine will keep us safe, help us feel important, show us there is a place for us.
Those who were loved and valued as children, who knew home as a safe place from which to go out in the world, as a place where, when the world hurt or confused them, they could get answers and their hurts would be comforted – those people have a flexible structure. They can go with the flow of events, learn from later experiences, and all the while hold to a belief in the pursuits of the life, liberty and happiness they understand as their right. They embody the song, “I get knocked down, but I get up again. Nobody’s gonna keep me down.” They have learned to use their experience, to understand that life can, and will, ask them to do things they don’t like or want to do, but they don’t have to cower in fear inside a rigid defensive structure against it.
Not all of us learned that. I sometimes think that damn few people got that sort of start in life. I know better than to believe that anyone’s life has been perfect, though I’ve met people who’ve told me their childhood was just that. Well, they get the perfect childhood medal.
For those of us who lived in the chaos of alcohol or substance addiction as children, who were taught early on that our needs and desires took a back seat to those of the adults who were supposed to be in charge, the lesson was that we didn’t count. We constructed our imaginal structure of rigid defensive material that varies from person to person. Some look out and say, “it’s dangerous out there, so I will just stay where I am.” Some see the world as a battleground, where the biggest and strongest win. We must be the strongest, even though we don’t, really, know how. Some maintain an arsenal of weapons, horded against the certainty that we’ll have to protect ourselves.
For almost all of us the overpowering belief is that we don’t matter. We don’t count – we didn’t count then and that’s not gonna change now.
We of the fortress-like structures are no more correct in our assessment of reality than are those who insist that their childhood was perfect. Everybody perceives their experience through filters in our minds, bodies, and psyches – most of which never even, it seems, become conscious.
If it sounds like I’ve got this all figured out, as if I see the world from within the safety of my imaginal structure as composed of those who had it good and those who didn’t – well, to be honest, sometimes I do. But more often, as I add to my wealth of experience, as I ‘walk the streets’ of what comprises my life, and take time to consider what I can learn from what I see, who I interact with, I find that I see myself in others, even others who don’t seem, at first glance, to be like me at all.
This helps me step outside of my own imaginal structure, to let down the walls just a bit so that I show up in the world with all my fears and foibles and strengths. It lets others in as well. I don’t know, but I’ve been told, by people I trust, that taking the risk of showing who you are allows you to see yourself more clearly. Like I said in the first posting, we all need to be seen, to have our lives and our experiences validated by witnesses. We all need to know that we count – especially to ourselves.

Taking Myself Too Seriously

So far I've written posts from a chair at my neighborhood coffee shop where, at certain hours it's difficult to find a chair close to the outlet or power strip. But I love this place, even the name - Sunergos. When I first moved to the neighborhood a barrista told me it means "we work together." Always, an interesting variety of college students (we're really close to U of L here), neighborhood quirky characters (might I be considered one?), and people with kids can be found in this old storefront given over to the pursuit of the perfect cup of coffee.
But - I digress.
My thinking when I clicked on the Create a Post button was to talk about my recent efforts to scale back my impact on resources - natural and otherwise - and how these efforts have thrown me in social and other groups of people that I've previously avoided - among other effects. The coffee shop is a good example though. In turning off internet access at home and using it here, or in other public places (I swear, every McDonalds has WiFi now), I'm saving my own scarce resources and interacting, of necessity, with others doing the same thing. I've lost track of the conversations begun with people leaning over to plug their computer into the power strip at my feet. But now - well, even if we don't smile at each other when we're both here, we at least acknowledge each other's presence.
Big deal - you might be saying. But over the years I've become a believer in the possibility that we truly do impact each other - in ways we may never know, and with an importance that we often downplay to ourselves. While standing in wait for my large half caff I made what a friend used to call "cheap conversation" with the barrista, discovered he was in massage school and looking for people to work on for practice. I've become a regular, and grateful for his passion and desire to explore new techniques and methods. He's learning and I'm getting the healing my body desires.
Changing other habits of using up scarce resources requires some work and a lot of intention. The air conditioning in my car died earlier this summer. Either bravely or stupidly - only at the end of this, one of the hottest summers in memory, will I know which - I decided not to have the compressor replaced. This has made me very conscious of whether or not I really NEED to get in the car, and quite vigilant about planning grocery runs and other errands so that everything is the shortest route possible. Though, sometimes I choose the shadiest route instead, for the change, and to feel the coolness overhead from fully leaved trees. Either way, I'm making conscious what my actions are, what I'm motivated by, and how often I think casually about driving and shopping.
And I suppose that's - mostly - the point of all of this. Sure, I am living somewhat 'greener' by making an effort to eat from one of the many, daily, farmer's markets in this town, but the larger impact is that I'm making an effort to wake up to what I do, how I do it, and who I do it with. I run into friends sometimes at the one or the other market. Just last week I met my friend Marilyn when we were both admiring the purple tomatoes of a farmer from Richmond, and she told me about a workshop on Finding the Myth in Your Life that she and her partner are hosting on 9/11. I mean - come on - how synchronistic is that! And on how many levels! And a perfect example of how one change, one risk, may actually make a signpost appear at that fork in the road we often dread to reach.

08 August 2010

What Does This Mean - Why Does It Matter

For the past several years I've wondered what I'm supposed to DO with the lessons I've been receiving.

What's with the damn near miraculous fact that I am still here, that I have an amazing abundance of love in my life, that, with all that nearly sixty years has shown me, I get glimpses that it's all what, and how, it's supposed to be.

If lessons are 'God's kisses' then Spirit surely has loved me, nearly to death. But somehow I keep coming out on the other side of it all. So, aren't I supposed to do something with it all? Share it with others? Do SOMETHING?

Not sure - but I keep getting opportunities to share experiences - mine and others. Writing is part of that. But sometimes it feels like navel gazing.

The thing is that we all need witnesses to our lives, our experiences, our selves. We need mirrors, to be able to see who we are. We need someone(s) to listen, to look, to reach out from a place inside themselves, so we can hear, see, or reach out to ourselves. Like the song says "these stories don't mean anything, if you've got no one to tell them to."

So maybe that's what this will become, maybe it already is that - the place of companioning - the place of witnessing - of opening - the place from which the journey continues.

Let's see what happens.