Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Owning the Authentic, Sensitive Me

Dear Barbara,

It has been four years and one day since you died in my arms. I tried to let the anniversary pass unnoticed, but I couldn't -- it didn't.

I am in such a different place than I was when I met you, the same day I lost you. We did not have a deep connection as such, except for sharing the last moments of your life together, which are perhaps some of the deepest moments of all.

It still hurts, Barbara. I have felt raw all week; dragged down and in need of space -- infinite amounts of space. I told someone that this anniversary always felt a little rough to me, especially because it comes the day after 9/11 and right before my birthday, and they were surprised. It made me feel ashamed that I still feel it so deeply, but I cannot change the way I feel, anymore than I could keep your airway from closing off on that night.

"Did you tell her to remember The Light?" someone asked me the day after you died. We were at an ashram, you remember, and a lot of the teachings focused on the Light -- there was even a meditation around it that people would stop and perform together during the day, called The Light. No, I said, I didn't. I didn't because The Light didn't resonate with me. As with many of the teachings at Yasodhara, I did not find that they spoke to me, and I felt shame about that, too. I have realized lately that it's a recurring theme: someone tells me something that will supposedly help me, it doesn't, and I take it on as something I'm doing wrong. I'm not doing anything wrong.

There have been many times in my life that I have wished someone could just tell me how to feel better or get better. I have sought out many healers of various kinds in search of an answer. I am realizing now that the shame I feel each and every time is because I cannot live up to their standard. However, that shame means that I am not owning my right to take what I like, and leave the rest. Instead, I use the ways I don't measure up as a whipping stick to beat myself with -- everything from not telling you to remember the Light, to not being able to let this anniversary pass without pain, to what I should and shouldn't eat according to the latest medical research, to whether or not I can fucking meditate.

It makes me tired, Barbara. I am tired of not listening to myself, although many people tell me I am better at living authentically than others. If I can let go of the black and white thinking, I can know that I am actually both of these things: I struggle with what others think and judge myself harshly for not being able to do it "better" while also casting a lot of society's norms to the wayside.

I feel deeply; I am sensitive. Depending on who you ask, this is either my biggest weakness or my greatest power. Depending on the situation, I vacillate between which of those beliefs I subscribe to. Someone recently paid me the greatest compliment of my life when they told me that it was clear to them that I was open hearted, then asked me how they could become more like me. I nearly wept, because it's true that I wear my heart on my sleeve and I cannot pretend otherwise anymore.

It's not that I miss you, Barbara; I hardly knew you. I do not miss the person who I was when I met you. I do not want to rewind the years I have had between now and then. But sometimes, I want it to hurt a little less, you know? I want to be able to hold my emotions up to the light and smile at them instead of finding them coursing through me like my very blood. I have not found that kind of detachment yet -- I am not there yet, and I want to be ok with that. I want to be ok with feeling as much as I feel; for being exactly who I am, open hearted and weepy, and also moving forward at the pace I am able. I want it to be enough; I want to be enough for myself, so I can put down all these expectations that I heap upon my shoulders in others' names.

Ultimately, even though I didn't say anything about The Light to you in your last moments, I showed up, Barbara. I was there for you in a way I didn't even know I was capable of. I held you, and I let your last moments be about you. I held the space, which is no small feat, especially for the amount of pain I was in then. Although I am feeling raw this week, it's different. I am better -- infinitely better. And owning how much I am as myself -- how far I've come -- is a major step toward owning my sensitive, amazing self.

Love and sensitive kisses

Saturday, September 3, 2016

I Have Fear (and Thirst, and Hunger)

In Spanish, you don’t say you “are” afraid, or thirsty, or hungry. Instead, you say you “have” them. (Tengo miedo; tengo sed; tengo hambre.) In fact, in Spanish there are two different ways to say “to be” depending on what aspect of yourself you’re describing. You can say “I am tall” (soy alta) because tall is an attribute that will likely stay with you for most of your life; at the same time, you can say “I am nervous” estoy nerviosa) and make it clear that you are only nervous right now – that your feeling is not necessarily permanent.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot, invisible audience. I am just about to restart teaching Spanish classes, so that is likely part of it, but I’ve also been thinking about it from a perspective of how I talk about myself, and how different it is to say “I am feeling fear” than to say “I am afraid.”

I recently heard a TED talk that is likely what got me thinking about this in the first place. It’s called “Could Your Language Affect Your Ability to Save Money?” by Keith Chen. In the talk, Keith points out that the countries that are best at saving money don’t differentiate between the present and the future. His example is rain. Those countries basically say “It rain today” and “It rain tomorrow” instead of “It rain today” and “It will rain tomorrow.” That single extra word gives us English speakers a separation between today and tomorrow – to these other countries, there is no difference between what happens today and what happens in the future.

With Spanish, my fascination goes the other way. Am I identifying so much with my fear because I hold it as close as how tall I am, my hair color, and my gender? If I say I have fear instead of I am fear, would that change things for me?

I’ve been standing in an interesting place recently. It’s uncomfortable. I don’t like it. I am facing some deep-seated fears that I’ve had for a long time. But instead of moving or leaving like I would have done before, I am practicing patience, and trying to see how it will all work out instead, and staying put.

When I look at what I want out of my life, I am still afraid (I still have fear) of jumping completely into the boat. I want to write. It may not be apparent from my lack of blog posts, but that’s exactly it, invisible audience. In one of her most famous posts on therumpus.net, Cheryl Strayed counseled a would-be writer to just “write like a motherfucker” after the woman sent her a letter about how much she felt a need to write but couldn’t bring herself to do it. “That you’re so bound up about writing tells me that writing is what you’re here to do,” Strayed told her. That line has stuck with me ever since I first read it. It describes me in a way that hurts, deeply.

I look back at some of the posts I wrote in Panama, and I am awed at my own courage. Frankly, it’s some of the best writing I’ve ever done. I was also in more pain than I’d ever been in…although perhaps it’s more accurate to say I was allowing myself to feel more of the pain than I’d ever let myself feel before.

I do not feel as much pain anymore, thank the entire pantheon of gods and goddesses. I am starting to feel a deep need to write again, but I’m not sure what to write about if it’s not about deep, bottomless pain. Perhaps that is what has stalled me. Perhaps I am getting closer to “having” my pain than I am to “being” my pain, and I don’t know how my writing will be different in this new space.

I want to turn more to writing. I have fear around this idea. Despite four published books, a current co-writing project with a friend, and a daily writing practice, I struggle with the idea that I can make money as a writer. This, despite the fact that I have years of evidence that tells me I can make money however I want to. It will likely take more time. It will likely take more courage. It will likely scare the ever-living shit out of me at times. But I like to think that if I have fear instead of being fear, it will be easier to cast off – much like I cast off hunger with a simple, delicious meal.

Love and having hunger kisses,