24 January 2011

This Is It

Always we hope someone else has the answer, some other place will be better, some other time it will all turn out. This is it; no one else has the answer, no other place will be better, and it has already turned out.
- Lao tzu

One of my family members is, even while I type, moving toward the end of her life. It's an extended, not immediate, family member - someone I don't really know well to be honest because we live at a distance from each other. In truth I haven't seen her since the summer of 2008, just four months after my heart attack. Yet as I follow the e-mails from her immediate family, the updates on her treatment and, recently, the news of the discontinuation of that treatment, I find myself wanting to DO something for her and for the rest of the cousins I'm not [in truth] even that close to.

Ah, the legacy of growing up in an alcoholic home! I was the kid who tried to "fix" everything, the one who came to believe early on that I could rescue the drunk, could make others feel better, could - if only I tried hard and long enough - make it all different. I strove diligently and long, in my primitive child ways, to become the heroine of my family. When you're too young and too scared and too powerless to deal even with your own stuff - the best way to avoid trying is to take on the stuff that other people are only-too-happy to let you have.

Now, I'm not trying to either excuse or blame myself for this - just to express honestly that I know where the impulse to jump into a situation such as my cousin's comes from. Lao Tzu - smart guy - knew what he was talking about, didn't he? Always we do want it to be something outside of ourselves that we can take on, blame, hold to, fix, or whatever our particular defensive strategy spurs us to do - so that we don't have to sit with the unbearable roiling in the belly, the intolerable drunken monkeys that swing from limb to limb in the mind when fear and anger, and even regret combine in something we label anxiety. Always I want to rescue, fix, make it all better for others - be the heroine.

Accepting that what I CAN do is share the things I know to be true from my experience, share what my heart holds, share my honest words and express my emotions doesn't feel like enough to me. But accept it I must, and do. I don't have to like it - just accept it. This acceptance involves inhabiting that anxiety that pushes me to "do something," to consider that in this situation, as in most of life, all I can do is respond authentically. Which of course requires maintaining contact with what truly is authentic in me - including the desire to be the heroine.

My cousin's husband signed off on his earlier e-mails with the phrase "Cancer Sucks!" Sitting with our anxiety sucks too, as does this whole trying-to-be-a-grownup at times. Yet I'm finding, as I express, as I love myself even when I squirm as I look at myself, as I get to know that authentic me and share it with others, that life is comprised of more of what (as Anthony Bourdain would say) "doesn't suck" than what does.

Yours in continual confusion, along the journey.

12 January 2011

Conflict Consideration

For a time now I’ve used this photo of me, my daughter Sarah, her boyfriend Josh, and my friends Jan and Meridian for my computer desktop image. This reminder of the variety of relationships in my life has greeted me each time I open the computer, often caused me to smile or reflect on the ways each person in the picture came into my life. So various and precious have been the ones who entered when I allowed the door to my heart to open that I’ve often wished to gather them all together in one place at one time. Those in the photo stand in for all the others not present in that moment.

There is however a way that I’ve needed to see people from a distance, as in a photograph, or via telephone or email. Even those I love as the beating of my heart, I need separation from. This has always been a truth of my character – not the entire truth of who I am, but a significant part of the whole entity. I’ve only uncovered this aspect of me within the past few years, and only very recently begun to find acceptance – that solitude is necessary for me, is as important to who I am as is community.

I used to think this a failing, a character flaw. Given that our culture determines our value in part by how “popular” or “connected” we are, it’s not surprising that I would view my need for alone time as problematic, as something wrong with me. Viewing myself through the lens of this culture – as we all do, really without knowing we do – I’ve suffered the fallacy that if I’m alone, I must be unlovable in some way.

Yet in truth I’ve often felt more alone when IN relationship than when I am by myself. A great deal of my energy and years of my life have gone into clinging to spouses and lovers I didn’t really want, much less need, to be with – all in service to the fallacy. Only now do I begin understanding that I too often selected those spouses and lovers from an unconscious need to be pushed away by them. I’ve needed the choice of solitude for some time, to learn to be in relationship with myself.

Learning this does not negate the very human need that arises as well to be cared for and cared about. I struggle with this need at times. But I am also learning through this struggle to more fully appreciate the people who do care for and about me – and that the first and most important of those people must be me.

Today I changed the picture on my desktop to the one below. It seems a small thing to do, but I hope this picture too will serve to remind me that being alone doesn’t necessarily mean being lonely, that solitude too can be a form of love, that companionship with oneself is as needful as company. Perhaps even more so.

03 January 2011

Come out of the Dark

I receive something called "Peace Quotes" in my e-mail every day. These vary from the trite to those full of depth and wisdom. I often save, and use, some of the ones I most resonate with in these postings. They've many times been the impetus for a poem or other creative enterprise. On the first of 2011 the quote was by someone named Howard Thurman -

"Don't ask yourself what the world needs; ask yourself what makes you come alive. And then go and do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive."

Interesting what generates a response in us, since that response surely leads us toward what we need - probably even more than what we think we want, definitely more than what we're usually running pell mell and hell-for-leather trying to get or catch up with. Or maybe it's just me.

During the holidays I get moribund, caught in a depressive mindset that reads like a bad fortune cookie telling me "You'll never amount to anything." Yeah, I know the reasons for it - but knowing ain't "knowing" - if you know what I mean. It's easy enough, in this state, to believe I have nothing to offer - and that the world (both at large and the various individuals in MY world) wouldn't experience any loss if I wasn't here. So asking myself what makes ME come alive at such times seems a pointless question.

Yet that's the very question I need to consider, perhaps what each of us needs to consider during the dark nights, if not of the soul, at least of the spirit.

On the heels of reading Thurman's words - which gave me a larger shot of aliveness than I guess I realized at the time - I MADE myself get dressed (a bit more up than usual) and head toward a housewarming for some friends. Once there I soon found myself in such varied and interesting conversations: the healing power of story, the impetus toward and challenge of painting a dark red kitchen a sunny yellow, the dissolution of a sand mandala, and even one about an old local television show "T-Bar-V Ranch" (which I was on when I was five, AND to which closing song I knew [and sang] every word!). A couple of hours of this and I felt myself coming back to life.

I can't say for sure that my participation and interactions are important to the world - but I can say, with certainty, that coming back from the dark matters to me. And I can certainly testify truthfully that everyone in the kitchen at the housewarming sincerely enjoyed my singing of the song. It's been a while since I received an enthusiastic round of applause.

I went out and did what made me come alive - come out of the dark - and, if Thurman is correct, the world, as well as me, got what was needed.