27 February 2012

Occupy - an Idea

Occupy an idea, live with it, sleep with it, inhabit it until it becomes a kind of "gnosis," or genuine knowing. Occupy a place because you love it or because it needs loving attention or simply because you need a place to be. Find something that feels and smells authentic and occupy it fully in order to bring back life's natural state of diversity and abundance. In the midst of all the change, confusion, and chaos, occupy your own soul; for without soulful presence even momentous events can become hollow and be reduced to political in-fighting and the seeds of change can fail to take root.
Michael Meade.  

These words, written by a man who was my teacher for a grace-filled weekend in late 2007,  showed up in an article on Huffington Post about the Occupy movement.  Yet they struck me personally.  And I’ve tried them out, tried keeping them in mind – as well as in sight, printed and stuck under a refrigerator magnet where I saw them each time I went to the freezer for ice.
I needed words that reminded me to simply be still recently, as I approached what was for me a singular event – my 60th birthday.  Along with selections of meaningful poetry and fiction, I needed words like Meade’s, regardless of context or theme, for sitting with the anxious beliefs swirling in both head and body as I approached this milestone.  I needed reminders that my anxiety had a flip side, if only I could occupy it, “live with it, sleep with it, inhabit it . . .” until the crawly-skinned feeling could lessen.
In the midst of the change that I imagined was coming because a page on the calendar would turn I tried a literal occupation – something that’s worked for me before.  I established my bed as the site of occupation – brought to it warm drinks (on occasion, alcoholic also), yummy snacks, books, the journal I began in December when the first pricks of anxiety made themselves known, my laptop for writing, watching movies, listening to music, extra pillows, baby dolls and bears.  And I allowed myself to spend all the time there that I needed to.  It was, I see now, an occupation of soul and spirit, or psyche and mind – an inhabiting of what was going on within, while simultaneously allowing my insides to be affected by what I brought to the occupation.
And it helped.

I only understood how much it helped when, three days after my actual birthday a dinner I had been told was siblings-only revealed itself as a surprise party celebration– complete with friends and gifts and trick candles in the birthday pies.  [Yes, birthday pies – I highly recommend this alternative to cake and ice cream.]  Before spending time with my anxiety, my surprise at walking into the house where so many unexpected people were gathered would have ramped up that anxiety – made me feel as if I had to ‘perform’ somehow – resulted in internal expectations that I should be the ‘perfect’ honored guest.
I know this because it had been my reactive response to similar situations over the years.  It’s always been a conflict for me – being the center of any attention that I did not seek, did not bring on myself by my own efforts.  Unsought attention would immediately trigger an inner sense of “what do these people want from or of me – what’s my role, or job, in this situation?”
Occupying the uncertainty and fear of what it might mean to be sixty – to become what I’d previously defined as “old” – had in fact peeled away another layer of my thinking about self in this “what do they want” manner.  I’d sat with those habits of self-definition, that really came from old messages, long enough to know them for the burdensome weights on my soul that they’d always been.  I had spent time with my somatic and spiritual desires – taking them easy and pampering them from my bed – allowing myself to accept that I didn’t have to DO or BE or TRY anything except what felt right to me.
And the result was that I could simply enjoy my surprise party – move around to interact with the people there, drink my wine and enjoy the food and the pie (especially the coconut cream), open the gifts, give and receive the hugs – without worrying or stress.  And the result of that was that, not only did I have fun, feel loved and special – but everyone else did as well.

So here’s what I’m thinking:  I’m gonna keep Michael Meade’s quote up on the fridge a while longer.  Wedged under a magnet (one that was part of a gift from the surprise party) that says “I believe in a world where chickens can cross the road without their motives being questioned” the printout of Meade’s words shares space with my ticket for The Moth tomorrow night, alongside pictures of me and Sarah and Josh acting silly at a wedding.  I’m gonna keep the idea of occupying what calls to me for attention where it can remind me, when the next anxious time comes along.

08 February 2012


     You’d think that by this age I’d have learned better than to ask “why” questions – I mean, those are ‘god’ questions, right?  But, wait, hold on to this beginning, this avoiding-getting-started-moving-in-the-totally-wrong-direction statement.  Don’t lose it while I start over.  You’ll see why shortly.

Why is it that the deepest aspects of us, the parts of mind or body or psyche or soul that we absolutely cannot change because they’re hardwired or fixed, the characteristics, traits, qualities, and attributes built in to us from birth and honed by experience – why do we struggle so in giving ourselves permission to be (or do, or whatever) these things?
     You’d think that these built-ins, these things that make us who we are, that serve as our definition in the dictionary of humanity, would serve us kind of like a safety net or a warm blanket as we move and act in the world.  But, in truth, the defining things, the unalterable aspects of us are those that we seem to fight against the most ruthlessly.  Giving oneself permission to be, and be comfortable being, who we are at our core feels, most of the time, nearly impossible.
     Even Jung acknowledged that the most terrifying thing is to accept oneself completely.  In our terror we project those aspects of self we most hate onto others.  Much like what seem to be the motivations behind the actions of prominent Republicans these days – an obvious determination to grab power and control over our society even if it means the destruction of that society – we’d rather punish our own nature, punish too those on whom we project the hateful, than permit it to show.

     Which circles back around to the self-critical statements I began with.  Asking “why” is human.  Though there may not be an answer, at least not an answer we can understand in our human limitations, asking why is important – to our continued understanding of both self and others.  In asking “why” we become vulnerable, open to experiencing reality that may arouse fear, sadness, shame.  Thus the rationale for not permitting ourselves to ask, to not open to the inherent vulnerability of our humanity.  I mean, who wants to volunteer to experience those affects?
     Without experiencing that which hurts, the affects we’ve had-enough-of-thank-you-very-much in our lives, we cannot experience how those affects can become capacities which encourage and feed us.  Only through feeling the fear do we encounter courage, through opening to sadness we discover compassion.  Only through getting to know shame can we come to know its opposite – dignity.
Why sign up to do something so difficult?  Isn’t life easier, don’t we ‘get along’ better, if we just keep pushing away what doesn’t feel good, blaming someone else for what we experience?  There are those, obviously, who think so.

     Some years ago a friend’s mother died after a prolonged battle with cancer.  His relationship with his mother had been a source of profound conflict and intense need – on both sides – for all his life.  Experiencing the death of the parent on whom we most depended will engender, for most of us, a struggle with choices.  We can choose to accept that now whatever we wanted from our parent will never come our way; or we can choose to keep looking for what we wanted from those around us.  We can grow up, become who we are meant to be, or we can remain a child, trying still to be mothered.  My friend chose the latter.  Since I couldn’t, and certainly wouldn’t, be a mother figure to him; our friendship ended.
     Ending our friendship felt worse to me than the ending of my marriage.  Yet I learned so much in grieving that loss, lived so completely with the sadness, the anger, and the fear that I came to understand both more about myself and a great deal more about myself in relationships.
     The signs were all there that he wasn’t capable of living with what was difficult, that this was who, and ‘where’ he was.  I’d seen them, and from who and where I was, chosen to ignore or explain them away.  In the grief I later worked with at the loss of this friendship, I understood that I am a human who loves unreservedly, goes beyond the call, hangs in with relationships when others would quit.  And I roiled around in the muck of self-punishment – because of this aspect of my humanity – for a long time.  Until living with feeling a fool for how I’d been, and sitting in despair at my own stupidity became transformed, through sharing and writing, into appreciation for the depth and capacity for love my behaviors exhibited.
     Permitting my humanity, dwelling in the places where I most hated to live – in the seeming foolishness of my response in relationships, in the palpable sadness of loss, in all those hurtful and hurting places – I learned greater acceptance of me.  I’m more open in the world when I allow the difficult and painful to manifest, rather than try to push them down or project them out.
     Maybe we don’t ask the ‘why’ questions because we can’t control what answers we’ll get.  Following the difficult and uncomfortable feelings into our own interior, allowing them to inhabit and teach us, means we don’t control what will come back to our exterior.  And as perfectly imperfect humans, we just hate it when that happens.