Self Love at the Portal

Earlier this week was my birthday, my 40th birthday, in fact. I spent it (and the days before and after it) mostly huddled on the couch with stomach cramps, interspersed with frequent runs to the bathroom. I got a delightful birthday present of intestinal flu. I would not say it was pleasant or fun. But I also would not say it wasn’t good. In fact, one moment in particular stood out to me, when I was wrapped in a blanket, trying many different positions to find the one that felt least uncomfortable for my belly, my cheek pressed against a couch cushion and my brain too foggy to really process complex sentences, and the thought floated through my head… I am happy right now.

Yes. It felt true. And I knew why I was feeling that way, too. It was because I could feel myself being loved by myself. Somehow I could feel all of these tiny little actions as coming from a loving place in myself, a place that loves me and wants to take care of me and wants me not to suffer any more than I have to. And while this is not a BRAND new sensation, it’s still not something I’m super accustomed to – the inner sense of wanting myself to thrive, of wanting myself to be happy, of believing that those things are ok and possible and worth going for.

Here are a few of the things that felt like love to me:

  • Making and drinking a cup of warm ginger lemon tea in my very favoritest rainbow mug.
  • Canceling exercise plans (multiple times) when I could clearly hear my body telling me that rest, not activity, was what it needed – and not beating myself up for not sticking to my schedule.
  • In fact, clearing my schedule of all but the most necessary commitments, which included rescheduling a piano lesson and postponing a social engagement and deciding to skip a class I’d been excited about pushing myself to attend – and feeling a big THANK YOU arising like an exhale from my inner being.
  • Moving my body gently and with tenderness. Allowing myself to just rest, in bed, on the couch, on the recliner, wherever felt the best, without needing to think, without needing to consume entertainment. Many times, as I wrapped my arms around a pillow (or ok who am I kidding, around a stuffed animal, of which I have several) I really felt myself being held in my own embrace, and I felt really, sincerely loved. 
  • When I was wanting spiritual nutrition, reading a book of poems by Kay Ulanday Barrett (a birthday present from my mom – thank you!!). They write about queerness, marginalization, disability, and also deliciousness and history and warmth and love, and their work is deeply nourishing, and it felt like love to give myself space and time to swim in the ocean of their words.
  • Noticing the things that felt like too much stimulation: the fan, the noise from outside, the sunlight, the movie I tried to watch. Turning them off, closing the window, moving to a quieter spot.

This self love has been a lot about permission, permission to let myself do the things that my inner wisdom said were best for healing, even when they conflicted with external standards of productivity. This self love also felt like a quality of being: so that when I lay down to rest, I could feel myself placing my body with care and respect, wishing to make it as comfortable as possible – as I would for someone I loved. 

Which kinda implies that maybe I am someone I love.

Turning 40 is a whole archetype and stuff. As it happened, this birthday celebration looked a lot (a LOT) different from how I imagined it might, back when I was turning 38 and 39, and not just because I hadn’t planned on having the flu. I had a lot of painful feelings come up about the changes of the past year. Heartbreak resurfaced with intensity, and tears came plentifully. (The phrase “ugly crying” is apropos here.) My brain had certain ideas about what was going to make my birthday meaningful (aka, a “plan”)… but my heart and my body both said, nope, what we’re gonna be doing is bringing up all the shit, and feeling how shitty it feels, and then releasing it. 

And it was ok. And even though I didn’t exactly ENJOY it (the emotional parts, in particular, were tinged at times with shame), it felt like a pretty fitting way to move through this decade-portal. Because it’s what I have to learn to do, on smaller and larger scales, all the time: feel pain. And let it go. And feel it again. And keep letting it go. 

And allowing that to just be what it is, allowing this to be the perfect birthday after all, also feels – like love.

ACS_0193

Big things and small things

I look down at my hands, and see
I’m holding the wand of disappearance
I know I’ve wielded it
because everything seems to be gone
but I can’t quite remember
why

I did a weird thing this year. I broke up with my partner of 12 years. I’ve never done anything like that before. It was a big deal. It shook my life to the core. And I find myself in strange terrain – a place that, frankly, sometimes terrifies me with its emptiness.

It’s an emptiness that I asked for, that I sought and fiercely claimed. And now that I have it, I’m – not quite sure what I’m doing here.

(And in the space, feelings arise.)

Trees at the side of a lake

I’ve been told (by Marc David and others) that when one is going through big life transitions – it’s ok to simplify; it might in fact be necessary to let go of a lot of activity. I’ve recalled this advice often as I attempt to navigate this time. Because just processing what’s happening, internally recalibrating to how every every every aspect of life is different now, that takes a lot of energy – energy I’m mostly not even conscious of spending. Then there’s feeling all the emotions: the intense swing dance of lightness and grief, grief and lightness, then swapping partners to do a turn with fear, with excitement, with frustration, with happiness, with anger, with depression, with freedom, with plain old sadness. There’s the struggle with self doubt: this too takes life force, meeting and battling and surrendering and falling and rising up again to face with compassion the old, old, OLD story that my motivations are not to be trusted, or that I’m simply a failure.

Oh, self criticism, self doubt, that bitter couple – and their bothersome neighbor, the Fear of Missing Out (aka, to some, FOMO). This is one of the big places where I always used to punish myself, the gasoline to the spark of jealousy I carried so insistently as a younger person. Fear that I would miss the rich experiences of human interaction that were the main point of life, either because of some unfairness that should be resented and fought against, or more often, because I was simply inadequate to the task of creating them: “Why do I have to be such a loser?”

I’ve worked on this a lot. And mostly I don’t get sucked into this sewer-drain in my day to day life. But you know what can trigger it (I’ve discovered)? Breaking up with someone and seeing them launch instantly into exciting and successful new creative and business projects. Visiting friends whose lives look (sometimes, from the outside) like constant international adventure and shiny metropolitan coolness.

And me being like – gosh – all I really want to do is look at trees. Touch them, sit under them, learn their names and anatomy, breathe oxygen directly as it’s exhaled from their leaves. Lie on the ground beneath them and nap between dirt and sun. Roll over and read a book, or (if I’m feeling really energetic) jot a verse.

Yep. That’s basically all I want to do right now.

And I relentlessly ask myself, is that enough? Can it possibly be enough? Surely everyone in my life will decide I’m an uninteresting nobody, and will move on with their big, important things, and I’ll be sitting alone crying in my twin bed.

Can it be enough? This time of seeking refuge in forests, and clearing old leaves from the garden, and writing tiny poems in pencil?

Maybe what I’m really asking is, can I do this and still be loved? Or maybe even clearer – can I be valued? Can I be a worthwhile addition other people’s lives?

Even if I’m not in three choirs and two boards and spending every evening going to classes and leading Dances of Universal Peace and attending retreats and volunteering with the homeless and rallying for politicians and… you know, all the stuff I normally do?

Because I can’t really, right now. And I hear one voice in one ear saying, throw yourself into service and growth! It’s the way to forget your selfish troubles and find real happiness!

But my body says No.

It says it so loudly and clearly that I cannot force it to say otherwise.

And funny thing: it said “No.” in that very same, resounding, irrefutable tone when I was asking, isn’t it (surely it’s) time for me to buckle down and work really hard, again, on trying to make this marriage a place where I can be happy?

My body said No. so strongly, I knew it was the truth. And I did what it told me. And I felt better.

So maybe I’m in a period of No.

And maybe I’ll lose friends, community, opportunities. Maybe I’ll fall like a stone in a giant lake, my little ripple vanishing in seconds as big important waves continue their unflappable business of going places. Maybe I’ll come out of this time and find I need to start all over, building a life from scratch, because I’ve alienated everyone with my vanishing act.

And maybe it will still be ok, even if all that happens. Maybe I’ll emerge from this night with some piece of self knowledge that can’t be gotten any other way. Or maybe I’ll just be rested. And hungry. And ready.

For whatever’s next.

Wooden bridge and autumn leaves

Sad in Spring?

Sad in Spring?

This is a message for anyone who feels out of sync with the season, whose inner world seems to be clashing with what’s happening outside. Because grief and sadness can arise in springtime, same as in winter. And when the heart full of sorrow meets a shimmering mountainside covered in late snow, the effect may be to dispel the clouds within – or to drive a sharp stone point into the tender center of being. And when our eyes are still welling with tears even when we’re looking at a field of vibrant new wildflower blossoms –

It can be so easy to think we must be doing something wrong. 

How could we still cling to this pain when every insect and dewdrop and neighbor around us is singing “Happy Happy Joy Joy” in 16 part harmony? We must surely be a stubborn fool, says the critical mind (or at least mine does). We must be in love with our sadness, to hold so fast while all creation conspires and strives to wrest it from our grasp. 

Well, this is simply to say that ours is a universe of cycles within cycles. And while the seasons are powerful teachers, we have our own inner seasons, as well – the timing of which is not obligated to line up with the solar calendar that regulates changes in the weather at our particular spot on the globe. 

So if you’re experiencing a deep emotional process that seems to be at odds with what nature is doing all around you; if turning your attention to the flourishing of springtime doesn’t instantly erase your grief, your distress, your heartache; if the phenomena that are currently making all your friends giddy are actually sharpening your pain and leaving you feeling lost, confused, or alienated –

Please, please, please, above all, PLEASE do not beat yourself up any further. We don’t all go through our periods of profound inner challenge at the culturally appropriate time. It’s ok to be sad in springtime. You are NOT doing it wrong. 

Try to stay open, as much as you can, even when the temptation is strong to implode. 

Remember that “beauty” is not synonymous  with “elation.” While the onslaught of color and light can feel overwhelming during a period of depression, if we can stay present,  we may find ourselves stunned and indescribably moved by the perfect symmetry of a richly purple rose unfolding beside our door. A wild thunderstorm can jolt us for a moment out of our small-s self and bring us into direct communion with the Divine. 

And, if spring is bringing a difficult emotional landscape into stark relief, remember the most important lesson of the seasons: All things pass. 

All things pass. 

ALL things pass. 

You can feel free to be fully present with what is in your inner world, knowing, with the part of you that simply knows, that the pain you feel now will, like the clouds, inevitably shift, change, transform, and finally, pass. 

Operating Instructions 

I found this intriguing question today in my notes from I don’t know what. It said, “What is MY instruction manual? If not the standard extrovert directive?”

I have no idea what context gave rise to this question. I guess the second part refers to the belief I had found myself holding, that the main point of life was to have as many friends as possible and surround oneself with them at all times, a cause at which I’ve always felt like a failure, since I am so often overwhelmed by interaction and fleeing toward solitude. I guess I was asking, what if I’m measuring myself against the wrong standard? Could each person have their own secret orders? Implanted like a scroll in the heart, a set of instructions, a challenge to try to live up to, a direction to aim in? Those things that maybe don’t always come so easy, but which nevertheless I’m to strive for?

I wondered who would ever write such a thing… and what mine might say. So I asked. And here, in case you are curious, is what I heard…

OPERATING INSTRUCTIONS
for one lifetime
assigned to: Angela Galik

  1. Open your heart to love – though you fear other people – learn to trust them. Have courage and keep trying.
  2. Have courage and keep trying, in every other situation too.
  3. Notice others and their tender spots. Try to remember that their behavior toward you is often not about you. Try to see their struggles with compassion. Find ways to help.
  4. Keep in touch with the earth. Touch it with your hands and feet and body and breath. This will help you remember your unity with all things.
  5. Strive always to uncover your light and to remove, one by one, the many veils with which it is hidden. Reveal yourself to the world. Encourage and support others in revealing themselves. This helps to dispel fear.
  6. Listen to the yearnings of your heart. They will give you guidance in the moment. The guidance they give is true.
  7. Honor your creative process and give it space to take root and to bloom. There are things that the world needs to draw out of you for its nourishment, so learn to share that which you create. When obstacles appear, don’t stop; absorb them and transform them into your art, even if it takes a long time.
  8. Learn all you can. Strive to understand ever more deeply. Teach others what you have discovered.
  9. Keep faith. Remember always that you are part of something greater. Communicate often with your Source. Surrender your life to its calling.
  10. Be gentle with yourself, dear. Beating yourself up won’t help you to do better. Take care of yourself when you feel low. Build trust with yourself. Love yourself into growth.
  11. Shine.

So that’s what came… as my instructions, my orders from the universe.

Ok then. Getting to it. Off I go. 

The path ahead…

All I want to say about Orlando is

All I want to say about Orlando is

Here in America we have so many mass shootings
It’s kind of our thing
By one count, we’ve had 136* of them
In just 164 days this year.
And most of them …
Well, the ones I hear about, which is a small percentage …
They don’t necessarily
Shake me.

Like Sandy Hook, for example.
I remember friends who are mothers,
How their hearts broke
For the parents of those kids.

Or the Aurora movie theater
Right here
In my own metro area.
So many people I knew
Worried about going to the movies.

But me
I was just
Not thrown

And I wondered
About my lack of grief or fear

Mostly
I felt frustrated

I wanted
To shake
The whole country

I wanted to yell
That it wasn’t about gun laws
It’s about our culture

That these shootings
And the predictable debates
About regulating firearms
Are such despicably handy
Distractions
Everybody gets emotional
Everybody takes a side
We yell at each other for a while
We move the needle a hair
And while no one’s paying attention
A bunch of bullshit gets passed in Congress
And it sort of seems like
That’s the plan

Who does it serve
When we kill each other in this specific way?
Because somebody sure benefits …

And that’s
What I wish
We could focus on

Because
All around the world
People are profiting
From distractions
Just like these

A lot of those people who are profiting
Are Americans

And THAT
Is what makes me
So upset

Because this is our culture
It’s written into the contract
By any means necessary
Profit
Power
Control

And I want
Us to see this

I want
Us to change

I want
Some new values
Here

Well
What’s different about Orlando?

I guess
For me
This is one of the
One of the ones
That hit me
Hard in the chest
Though I didn’t know any of those people
And I’ve never even been to that city

Is it just because I am a queer person
Too?
I have questioned

I don’t feel attacked
And I don’t feel defensive
I honestly don’t even feel
Like gayness is really the point here
In some ways
It’s just another flavor
Of the same shitty medicine
And gayness
Homophobia
Is just
The excuse
There’s nothing new here
Nothing really different
From any other
21st century
American style
Mass shooting

But
Irrationally
I feel
Responsible
For those people
At Pulse nightclub
I feel
Like they were
Part of my family
And honestly
Even if they were my real distant cousins
Who I’d never met

I probably would not feel
So sad

I didn’t know any of them
And who knows
If their experience of queerness
Was ever anything like mine
Who knows
If any of them
Would have felt a connection
To some random lesbian
In Colorado

But I do

And the loss of these lives
I feel
Like a light going out
I feel
Like a sandbag
Hitting me in the chest

It doesn’t make sense
That I should care
Like this

But I do

And I want to say
That the majority of these people
Were also
Not white
I don’t want it to be lost
In this conversation
That these people
Who were chosen
For elimination
Were vulnerable
In multiple ways
In most situations
In life
Not just at the gay bar
But in a society
Where it’s ok
To talk about
The growing proportion
Of the population
That’s Latino/a
Like
That’s a danger
To some
American way

Like they
Were the danger

I want
Us
To be different

And although it will seem to some
Like it’s none of my business
Like I’m getting worked up
By focusing on the negative
Like I am always
Picking a fight

Today
Right now
My whole body
Is full of sorrow
Still

For these lives sacrificed
For the friends and families left behind
And for the knowledge
That this
This
Is what we’ve created
After two hundred and almost fifty fucking years
Of nationhood
This is what we’ve done
With the land
We massacred
The previous occupants
To get

Oh
Fuck
That came out too

Well

It’s part of the same problem.
Mass killing is written into our contract
USA
And we’ll never change
Until we can know that
In our hearts

I keep thinking I’m out of words
But I keep not being

I keep thinking I should shut up
But I keep not

I keep thinking I’m too sad
To talk
So I write instead
And I feel a little better

I’ll quote again
One of my favorite poems ever,
Allen Ginsberg’s “America”

There must be some other way to settle this argument …
America I’m putting my queer shoulder to the wheel.


———-

*That’s defining “mass shooting,” as The Gun Violence Archive does, as “any incident where four or more people are wounded or killed. That number can include any gunmen as well.”

An Opening, A Turn

Humiliating experiences.
Continual verbal harassment.
Sustained discrimination.
Social exclusion.
Intentional cruelty.
Chronic, ongoing fear and anxiety.
Perception of being trapped.
Feeling powerless to stop an attack.
Repetition of the above.

These are some of the causes of trauma.

Trauma, in the emotional or psychological sense, refers to “experiences or situations that are emotionally painful and distressing, and that overwhelm people’s ability to cope, leaving them powerless” (Center for Nonviolence and Social Justice). According to the nonprofit mental health resource HelpGuide.org,

Emotional and psychological trauma is the result of extraordinarily stressful events that shatter your sense of security, making you feel helpless and vulnerable in a dangerous world. Traumatic experiences often involve a threat to life or safety, but any situation that leaves you feeling overwhelmed and alone can be traumatic, even if it doesn’t involve physical harm. It’s not the objective facts that determine whether an event is traumatic, but your subjective emotional experience of the event. The more frightened and helpless you feel, the more likely you are to be traumatized.

The DSM, in its discussion of post traumatic stress syndrome, indicates that while this condition is typically thought of as resulting from one major event, an experience of violence or extreme horror, PTSD can also come about from an “accumulation of many small, individually non-life-threatening incidents.” Bullying is one scenario that is noted as a potential cause of what’s referred to as “complex PTSD” (Psychology Today).

What are some of the lasting effects of traumas of this nature – the subtle (or not subtle) forms of non-physical violence that, repeated over time, deeply wound the mind, the heart, the spirit?

Severe depression.
Sadness.
Hopelessness.
Guilt. Shame. Self blame.
Feelings of disconnection from other people.
Social withdrawal.
Shock. Denial. Disbelief.
Edginess. Agitation. Anger.
Avoidance of things, people, places, activities, etc., that remind one of the trauma.
Emotional numbness, coldness, frigidity.
Difficulty in forming close, lasting relationships.
Difficulty in accessing one’s capacity for sexual pleasure.
Abuse of drugs or alcohol.

I mean.

I read all this stuff, and it is my story. Every word of it is me.

I read it and I feel relief. This is what happened to me. I didn’t make it up.

And then I read it again and another voice inside of me says: Hush. This doesn’t mean anything. This happens to everyone. Who are you kidding? You’re not a trauma survivor. You’re an ordinary person living a relatively privileged life. Trauma is rape, war, having your house burn down. Bullying isn’t trauma. … Well, maybe for some people. But not in your case. You were just a kid in school and that’s what being a kid in school is like. Sucky. Now close that door, shut your mouth and walk away.

I have a Ph.D. in American Studies. My specialization is minority literatures. I used to teach about privilege and oppression in college classrooms. I shared classic works by brilliant artists with students who were adult, educated, intelligent, and in some cases, quite worldly. And it was always this: When a writer described experiences of oppression related to their membership in a group targeted for discrimination due to their race, ethnicity, nationality, economic status, gender, sexual orientation, age, ability, or anything at all, the students cried out, “They’re so angry. All they can talk about is how they’re a victim. The mean old world did this, that, and the other bad thing to me, my family, my great grandparents, my group. OK, well, bad things happen to everyone. Get over it. Nobody wants to hear that shit.” The contempt, the revulsion, was congealed in and dripping from their voices, their faces, their written responses. Nobody wants to fucking hear it. OK. Point made.

It can be awfully hard for someone who experiences privilege in a certain area of life to understand that some of the things that helped put them in the position they enjoy, occurred at the expense of other people, people they’ve never met, people who may live somewhere else in the world or who may be dead now. That it’s not simply a matter of the lucky-blessed-by-fate and the neutral. Privilege means you got yours BECAUSE something was taken away from someone else. Specifically. And in my experience, just about no one wants to have that kind of responsibility put on them. Especially folks who are privileged on one axis – but oppressed on another.

I’m a fat, lesbian recovering alcoholic whose family background is working class (and back before that, just plain poor). With plenty of serious mental health issues in all the branches of the family tree.

You think I want to say anything that’s going to make someone call me a whiner, a victim, a blamer-of-society-for-my-problems? Fuck no.

And on social media. And among my friends. I don’t want a reputation for focusing on the negative. I certainly don’t want to come across as feeling wronged, limited, or damaged by what I see others as having supposedly done to me. People don’t like people like that – at least people I know don’t.

But yet.

There are these experiences. That shaped who I am. And the way that they shaped me was in the form of trauma.

Dr. Bessel Van der Kolk, a pioneer in the field of trauma treatment, said, “I think trauma really does confront you with the best and the worst. You see the horrendous things that people do to each other, but you also see resiliency, the power of love, the power of caring, the power of commitment, the power of commitment to oneself, the knowledge that there are things that are larger than our individual survival” (On Being interview).

I don’t want to talk about my trauma as something bad that happened to me, some outside force that stunted my chances for a health and happiness. I want to talk about it as a gift my soul gave me, a core set of lessons in the curriculum of my life, something written into the plan for my earthly journey before I incarnated into this lifetime, one of the cards in the hand I dealt myself before birth – in consultation with the Divine, with my guardian angels, with the highest wisdom and guidance available to my spiritual self.

I want to talk about it as something that really happened.

I want to begin to integrate it. So that I can move on.

Dr. Van der Kolk says that trauma is different from other difficult experiences (even the very most difficult ones of all) in that trauma exceeds a person’s ability to process what’s happening, to cope with the emotions, to sustain a sense of safety and fundamental okayness. This effect is compounded when the social or family environment surrounding the traumatic incident(s) does not allow the person to feel what they feel, does not accept the reality that the person is trying to express, essentially, does not surround the person with love, comfort, compassion, care, and reassurance that they deserve to have healing.

In these situations, a person cannot then integrate the traumatic experience as just another story, even if a painful one, in their self-history. The person can’t create such a story because there is no acceptance for it, neither internally nor externally. The person cannot, then, deal with the consequences of what happened, whatever those consequences may be.

The unintegrated experience remains in the body. In the tissues. In the cells. It is a felt memory, one that a person doesn’t so much recall as relive. The words to describe the experience don’t actually exist – even if the experience itself could theoretically be told about in the most mundane of terms. “He called me this name. Over and over. Everyone else joined in. Nobody would talk to me. It lasted for ten years.”

A few years ago, everyone was talking about bullying all the time, especially in queer activist circles. A lot of attention was being given to kids, especially queer ones, who committed suicide after being bullied. The whole “It Gets Better” campaign was started by Dan Savage, and it became viral. People started to talk about bullying, to take it seriously.

I could not participate in those conversations.

I couldn’t talk about my experiences of having been bullied. I couldn’t talk about other people being bullied, because that might lead to my having to talk about me being bullied.

Being bullied. Being bullied. Being bullied. I am saying it a bunch of times right now because the phrase has such a charge for me, because it scares me so much. And for some reason all of a sudden today, I am ready to, I NEED to, face it.

I shut the door tight on that period of my life. I can talk about my struggles around self love, I can talk about almost killing myself with alcohol, I can talk about depression and economic exploitation and all this other stuff, I can go on and on, I have a lot of passion for sharing these experiences that I’ve had in the hopes that what I have learned through those challenges may be of some help to someone else somewhere. But I can’t talk about being bullied because I am still so ashamed.

When someone else comes out about their experiences being bullied, I think they are brave – and that their sharing their stories helps make the world a better place.

When I imagine myself talking about being bullied, I feel exposed. I am too embarrassed to even go there. I imagine it must seem so terribly predictable, so cliché, so obvious. I tell myself that of course I was responsible for how people treated me; I was too shy, too weird, too unskillful in my social interactions, yes, too unattractive. I deserved it. Deep down, well, maybe not so deep down, I believe that I deserved it, I brought it on myself. In retrospect I think I could have done any number of things differently and my life in school would have been different. If I had known better. If I had tried harder. If I had forced myself to not be so … strange. So fucked up. Such an ass. So goody-goody. So difficult to like.

I don’t get to talk about being bullied. Because I deserved to be bullied. That’s how I felt when the conversation came up. How I still feel. That’s why I couldn’t say anything – why I wanted to run away when people started talking about this. All this shame would well up from the pit of my stomach and I would have to swallow it down and it just made me feel like puking.

Then today. At work. I read a blog post by someone who was coming out of the closet and asking her readers what it was that they were afraid to share about themselves. And I read this post on my friend’s blog, talking about witnessing others being outcast at school. And then I was editing an essay by someone else about the culture of weight hate. And then I was re-reading this other article on our company website about trauma and weight gain. And all these texts were crossing my path talking about what the body does to try to meet our needs for emotional healing when our minds aren’t actually able to deal with our traumas.

And somehow it all came together and I just wondered what energy would be freed up if I was able to actually look this trauma right in the eye and say:

Yes.

I was severely bullied throughout elementary, middle and high school.

Whole classes called me names, loudly discussed my ugliness, threw things at me, excluded me from group projects so that I had to make up my own solo assignments in order to pass.

I hated my existence.

Going to school was a torment. Any time I achieved an honor – such as being selected for the senior show choir – my actual life got worse, as these groups were full of people who missed no opportunity to mock and degrade me.

As is so often the case, telling adults only made things worse, because they belittled my emotional responses and accused me of tattling.

I was a child. I did nothing to deserve the cruelty that surrounded me.

I was suicidally depressed.

Long after I graduated and went on to become a successful adult, I pictured myself jumping off of bridges.

I tried to eradicate myself by drinking.

Luckily, I failed at that.

And here I am. I grew up fine. I have a life that I love, a sweet job, a wonderful home in an awesome city with my beloved partner and my beloved roommate, creative passions, dreams, goals, purpose, service, positions of leadership, a spiritual path. Many friends. Abundant, nourishing community. I’m utterly surrounded by love and support today. There is just about zero bullying in my life, and what bullying does show up is not personal towards me, but simply the outflowing of someone else’s fear.

And I have this trunk in the basement of my psyche that is tightly locked. I stand on the lid so that it stays down, so that I most of the time never even notice that it is there.

But it moves.

It shakes. It vibrates. It is full, full, burstingly full of energy.

I think the energy has actually grown over time.

I think that if I don’t open it, if I don’t look at the contents and see what is in there, I think it might, one day, explode.

So this is me – stepping down off the trunk, pulling out the key that I’d forgotten was there on a chain around my neck all along, putting it in the lock and

turning

turning

turning

to face whatever comes out.

  

Reset

I just came back from a vacation, the first real, honest-to-pete, traveling just for the pleasure of exploration and bonding with one another that my partner and I have had the opportunity to enjoy together in years, most of our trips being family visits or retreats that we’re working at or quickie one-night getaways around Colorado. All of these, mind you, are normally both fun and fulfilling, but five days on the beach, letting our eyes rest on the waves in varying shades of blue rolling gently up onto the shore, well … It’s a different animal.

The holiday season this year left me feeling emotionally stirred up, at times very frustrated, and in the end unsure of myself and how I am supposed to respond to the world around me, with some degree of accompanying anxiety or malaise or depression — whatever you want to call it — the intensity depending on the day. But as our departure on this trip was set for New Year’s Day, I held the intention that the days “off the network” would be a way to hit the “Reset” button on my life. Like any good vacation should, the time away inserted a pause into my usual routines, interrupted habits (hopefully productively), gave me some space to see where changes could be helpful. There were a few main areas that kept floating to the surface like buoys bobbing on the ocean, just far enough out that it takes a hard swim to touch them.

One of those areas was busy-ness.

When I look back on the times when I’ve felt frustrated with my life in 2015, felt like I was spinning my wheels, like I didn’t know where my life was going or what my purpose was or who I was helping with my existence, those were often the times when I had gotten to feeling cramped, overcommitted, hemmed in, stuck in a self-created cage.

I am blessed to have a full time job and an abundance of activities to fill my time. Only thing is, I sometimes find myself filling my time so full that there is no room for dreams to grow. I guess I am restless both geographically and spiritually, and when my life gets so crowded that I can’t find a pathway out of the hustle, I start to have breakdowns.

I’ve already gone through a process of letting go of things that I’ve outgrown or that aren’t making me happy. I’m down to the things I’ve held on to because I love them. But I understand that I need to make some difficult choices now and let go some more — let go of some of the things that actually do feed me — because when a garden becomes choked, even with nourishing plants, it becomes harder and harder for anything to grow.

And there are things I want to grow. Solitude. Quiet meditation. Writing.

So on the updraft of Reset, I will be practicing this letting go, looking for a new balance that includes more space for my dreams to grow in.

As I have the goal of bringing writing from the sidelines to the forefront of my life, I’ve been thinking not only about what needs to be rearranged for it to fit, but also —

What do I have to say? What is the purpose of my talking at all? Questions that require silence to explore. And there were other questions that arose as well, in these beginnings of mental space, questions about my outlook, my role as a writer, as an observer and commentator, as a scholar outside the academy, as a witness to and participant in culture. (Some of these I will talk about in more detail in the next post — I started to go into it here, but the tangent got too long and split into its own separate essay, oops!)

I’ll be delving into these questions in the weeks to come. And if I find anything out,

I’ll let you know.

Funny how traveling brings the gaze right back to the self. Wherever we go, there we are, right? So what’s in this bag that I can’t help bringing everywhere with me?