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.
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.