Exploring the discomfort of Life…More of That

Walking on the edge, and not fitting in, that would be me.  I became a student in the art of fitting in, just enough to make life work. But that meant living a life of discomfort: a life of separation from myself that came from the attempt to connect with others at the expense of losing me.

Life seems to be made of discomforts; the discomfort of not getting what we think we want, not getting responses we want, the discomfort of a break in a friendship or partnership, the discomfort of not knowing, the discomfort of displeasing people and trying something different, taking risks, the discomfort of being on FB or other social sites and starting to feel pangs of envy, and a sense of being left out.

These discomforts unsettle my soul and teach me.  “What’s learnin’ ya?” my teacher Angeles Arrien would say.  Well, I have learned a few things about these discomforts.  I have learned about my completely unconscious and automatic ability to turn away and become distracted from them.  I have also learned about the power of listening and turning towards the discomfort, pain or fear. I have learned that doing that, actually makes the discomfort less uncomfortable, less potent and more manageable.  When I see the turning, my soul looking, there is a too tall dark shadowy being and I am saying, “I see you.  I know you.  I hear you, you are there”.  The darkness gains a small bit of light, the shadow fades just a bit.  The discomfort and the barely acknowledged fear subside for that moment.

“There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” ― Leonard Cohen, Selected Poems, 1956-1968

A lot of my life has been about turning away from all the discomfort and fear that has met me each day.  I am an expert at distracting myself, I think I am not alone in this.

The distractions are innumerable; for each and every disquieting thought, every discomfort, pain or fear, I dare say that there are at least 6 distractions and some aren’t even articulated. They just show up and I find myself somewhere else, not feeling what has caused me distress and that lasts maybe a second, maybe more, until I resurface in the land of discomfort again. In this country, I can distract myself again or turn and face it, stare it down, let it know I am not afraid of feeling the discomfort it brings. At least for that moment, I am not afraid, I am courageous.

As distractions go, they are often made up but seem very, very important and needing my attention. Needing me to turn to the story and/or drama that is much more urgently demanding of me, than the discomfort that I am afraid to face.

The White Queen in Alice and Wonderland was an expert at distractions:  “Alice laughed, “There’s no use trying,” she said; “one can’t believe impossible things.” “I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

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Maybe she should be called the Queen of distraction.

I guess the complicated part here, is that some things we turn to are creative, and do need our attention.  The question is when do we do that and why, at that moment, is it appropriate timing?

Sarah Blondin has a way of speaking to my soul, deep and clear.

Listen to her PODCAST – EXPLORING THE WILDERNESS OF YOUR DISCOMFORT

 

Sometimes We Don’t Know

This past year has been one of surrendering to all I don’t know.

My heart can become muddled over this process of surrendering.  I carry hope and fear around with me as if they were mini-me’s swaddled and attached to my hip, crying for constant attention as to which will get fed first.  On a daily basis, I can feel my impatience, my need to know, and my hopes and fears. My busy mind wants to distract me with thinking that every thought and feeling I have is very real.

My work becomes something of a cliché of being with what is, right now, right here. It is no easy task, and the most difficult part is getting my brain to join me in this being with what is.  It wants to “do”, and fix and make things happen.  So, I resist answers, and solutions and wonder when and how I will know what is next. It is an untethered feeling but inside, I don’t feel untethered. Inside I know everything is working out.  Not by magic and not by force, but by letting possibilities unfold.

The home I stay in is in a low-income community of Evanston, Il. The children in the neighborhood have lives I know little about.  I only know what I see. From time to time a mom is yelling in a tone of frustration, for their kids to come home, or the kids show up at the park when it is snowing and 32 degrees and they are sockless with feet falling out of their gym shoes, no gloves on and I feel cold for them and send them home to get something warmer. Or, like the other day, I take them to Goodwill and buy them gloves, socks, and boots because they tell me they don’t have things warmer.

When I take my soulful dog, Henry, to the park, they come running, gleefully yelling his name and he greats them with a full body wag and jumps to meet them.  The kids are full of life and energy and adorable!  They seem hungry for a hug and signal me by leaning their head against me, and I ask, do you want a hug and each time, they say yes. So we hug and the sweetness of connection is good. It is one of those moments where I, and perhaps they, can forget our differences of color, age, background and just connect. We talk about Henry, school, life, and they take turns running or walking Henry around the park. I learn a lot from these kids and the innocence they still have. I love them and wonder how I will tell them I will be leaving when I know I will.

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In some cases, these are children, burdened with parenting children. Their side of life is a ways away from what I have known and my kids have known. They raise questions for me that I have always asked about the deep inequality of our society and more profoundly, the deep wounds inequality makes in young people’s souls.

Maybe it is my imagination but it seems there was a time when more of our society and government felt a responsibility and cared about all who did and did not have, who was safe and who had shelter.  There was certainly a feeling that it mattered if our kids were safe at school, which outrageously has become a question and challenged in these times.

I feel such a mix of hope, sadness and, fear for these kids on my block, and what lies in their future.  I know some will thrive no matter what, some will do okay and some will drown regardless of resources, programs, encouragement and plain humanitarian caring.

I want to gather all these kids up, give them 3 square meals a day, teach them about junk food and other things about living healthy, give a few hugs a day as needed, tell them that life works out, and hold them close. Connect them to their roots and offer them wings.  The best I can hope for is that our interactions are positive enough that something about our meetings will stick with them and be something they can use one day.

There is an old Chinese proverb that says parents must give their children two things, roots, and wings.

“I have the roots. Now I want wings…Off to Paris to follow my dreams. Be brave, Ida and Morris.  We will meet again in that starry-eyed city. You know I have always lived by my dreams.  And now they have come true.  Roots and wings, roots and wings.  I’ve got to go, Daddy-o.”

~Max, the dog, from Maira Kalman’s Max Makes a MillionMax Makes a Million

Over Coffee

Just as the Buddha recognized Mara, we need to recognize the Inner Critic not as the truth, but as a single voice among many. ~Jan Chozen Bays Roshi, co-abbot of Great Vow Zen Monastery in Clatskanie, Oregon.

“Today, like every other day, we wake up empty and frightened. Don’t open the door to the study and begin reading.Take down a musical instrument.” ~Rumi

To those following me, a heads up that as of now, now that I have landed, sometimes I will be writing in the third person. So, here is a taste of that.

She loved the absurdity of suffering over her coffee.  It lightened the load of the suffering she did over her decisions.  Just as it was too difficult to get the really good cup o’ Joe she yearned for, it was just as difficult to figure out how to write about the hard times. The critic from the dark side could arrive some mornings just as she rolled out of sleep. It had a volume turned way too high and it took up the greatest airtime. It could consume her no matter what was ahead for that day.

She was learning to recognize the critic’s presence; tangle with it, face it, eyeball it up and down, and put on her Joan of Arc armor to sword fight it and take it down. It was tougher when it was the very first thought upon waking. She was determined to take it apart and disempower it and she knew she was making progress a bit each day.  Day by day she walked feeling a bit more bathed in goodness and confidence, not critiquing her decisions. Now she knew for sure that the sword fighting combined with the eyeballing was the exact formula to combat and disembowel the dark side.

She had been in Evanston 8+ weeks.  Sometimes it felt as if she had already been there FOREVER? Other times it felt like she just got there and sometimes, in the most blessed moments, it just didn’t matter. There were times that she forgot her reasons for moving, which caused her to feel very muddled, confounded and unsettled. She moved away from her kids, her home, and her friends on the West Coast, so remembering why was of great importance. When she did remember what the move was about (the healing she wanted) the re-feeling of old places, she was fully exhilarated by her adventure.

After speaking with her psychic, because she was that kind of girl who did those kinds of things, he simply affirmed what she already thought and knew. He confirmed that she didn’t have to stay anywhere. The real issue wasn’t where she should be, rather the insurmountable task of knowing her life purpose…what was she here for?  She thought this question was way too daunting, though she knew it to be true.  She could only respond inside her private thoughts with a knowing that all would sort out.  He talked about the energy she spread which would lay the groundwork for all she did and would do. Again, she knew that was also true and she could feel helpless in relation to her energy, helpless in her ability to change her energy.  She was either happy, okay, or not happy and not okay, and in really good moments she was neither and that suited her beyond measure.

Coffee at Brothers K

The Rocky Road of Listening Within

I always thought that listening within would be simple if I would just do it. Now I know doing it is hard, really hard, but as a good friend once said, “What else is there to do?”

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The journey of listening deeply which started back in January,  moved me away from family and friends in California, back to the Midwest, back to the North Shore of Chicago. My purpose was to heal and reclaim something I may have left behind. It certainly was to re-feel life that I once new on the North Shore and see how it fit with me now.

The journey of listening deeply takes me to the nooks and crannies that lurk around the corners of my thoughts, where pockets of solitude lie. Sometimes I can think that I am doing nothing and feeling everything and forget there are pockets of solitude.

Just before I turn to listen deeply, and turn towards the whispering voice, I can experience nausea that makes me want to change channels or go do something else.  I am sure that the whispers I am hearing cannot possibly be directing me onto the right path, and it definitely must be wrong because I feel so riddled with a disquiet. But over and over, when I listen and just allow the discomfort, the nausea of anxiety goes away and I am happier and comforted by the direction I have turned.

Listening deeply has been a nagging desire inside me for too many years.

 

An Experiment

As an experiment, I can remember that everything has a purpose, a possibility or offers something to study, then I can keep it or discard it.  This includes people, interactions, experiences, and emotions.

I have stepped into an extraordinary experimental journey.  Some of this journey is too familiar, some of it is all new.  This is not the first time I have ventured out on my own. It is the first time doing it in my 60’s with my kids who are 2,000+miles away.  It is not the first time I have felt uncomfortable with my unfamiliar surroundings; it is the first time I am seeing it as part of a bigger picture, part of a journey of stepping more into myself, accepting more of who I am and what I need to just be me, what I need to feed my spiritual questing.

My journey to Evanston has been much longer than the 5 night car trip via I-40 with Mr. H.  It has been everything leading up to this: all the thinking about doing what was right, the packing of my whole house, now rented long-term, selling, throwing out, and giving away much of what I have owned, saying see you later, to friends and family and life as I have known itbecause goodbye just sounds like more than the truth.

As I packed up I found myself wondering where I would be when the boxes were opened again, feeling a bit scared and excited.  Mostly excited but sometimes it can be hard to feel excited about something in the future I know little about.

I know that I really don’t know anything. I work hard to fill in what I don’t know with judgments, either positive or negative and though the positive feels better, I still don’t know what it is I am doing. I know I am here in Evanston, I know my room is a room, my dog is happy to be with me, and I know that I am slowly trying on this move. I know I am back here in the land of my first 30 years of life to retrieve something or glean something.

I am trying to just let this journey learn me and work me. I am trying to just sit with and turn towards what is uncomfortable, what makes me squirm or makes me judge myself.

I am thinking about the phrase, “What if it Was Sacred”.  What about allowing the things that make me uncomfortable to deepen and change me. and so become sacred.  I want to be present, and be a warrior to old ideas and limiting beliefs and allow myself to be open and listen to new possibilities and ideas. I want to feel the influence of the new, and what directions it can take me.

 

Letting Go and Letting Go

4/2/17 Thoughts on weeding out, de-cluttering and letting go.

I have nothing new to say here, I just have my thoughts, my pain, and ultimately my freedom.  I want to make the letting go significant.  I want to know that what I let go of, makes someone happy or is useful to someone.

I held on to things and let go of many. I still have 40+ boxes of stuff stored in my garage!  It all needs another good combing, but not this time around. I held onto a bathroom rug that was my mother’s.  It seems silly, a bathroom rug, really? Not just because it was my mother’s but because it is good quality and big and I think of my parent’s house in La Jolla that offered such comfort to all of us, my kids, their dad and I. When I see that rug, I think of feeling well taken care of, having plenty…plenty of love, connection, and things, lots and lots of beautiful things..

I held onto the New Yorker cartoon of a zen monk meditating with all of his crap behind a beautiful screen, a cartoon my mother framed and had hung in the bathroom which is a tradition I have kept. It has been in a bathroom ever since she gave it to me. It will go in another bathroom one day again.  That is, if I can find it in all the well-marked boxes. Well, my intention was to “well mark” them.  I just won’t know how well marked until it is time to find something, like the framed cartoon for the next bathroom.

That cartoon represents a tradition in my family of emitting peace and holding the crap behind the screen. This is the tradition I keep trying to change with every move I make.  With each move I make a little headway and always wonder what I will do with all this stuff when I am a Buddhist nun somewhere in my future dreams. I am tired of the energy it takes to keep turning away from what is behind the screen.  And yet, the struggles of letting go are deep and ancestral.  I have gone through nearly every item I own in detail, making decision after decision, keep, don’t keep, keep, don’t. I am doing it, sometimes down to a spotted paperclip or gold pen, or the metal yardstick my mother felted the back of so she could use for sewing. 

Some of these decisions were choices my mother didn’t want to make. Or was it her way of leaving something of herself behind? I know I am holding on to things to leave something of me and my history behind. As I am packing I wonder if my kids will be the ones to go through these boxes and what will they think about or what unanswered questions will stir in their minds.

Many people have quoted the feng shui book to me, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. They tell me all I have to do is hold the object in my hand and ask if it makes me happy or do I love it.  But the questions are more simple and more complex than that. There are objects that hold memories, memories I want my children to learn about, memories my mother wanted me to learn about, memories that keep the lineage, and the familial connection to what is good, true and beautiful. And the memories have energy.  It is that energy I am trying to untie from and still hold onto the memories. And the whole time, the chatter in my head is saying you are letting go of the wrong things, the valuable things, or you are holding onto the wrong things, the things that don’t really matter.  The truth is, I am holding onto what I am not ready to let go of yet.

I let go of 8 car loads to the Good Will, 4 trips to the consignment store, I sold a few beds and furniture on OfferUp and Nextdoor. and took two trips to Clars Auction Gallery .  I brought Clars a coral necklace still with the Marshall Field’s box. It was my great aunt’s and then her daughter’s and then my mother’s and now mine. It now seemed easier to let go of.  For god’s sake,  no one has worn it for over 40 years or possibly longer. It sat in the box making me nervous that I would somehow lose it or it would get stolen. I knew it was time and it would have been so much easier to let go if nice the lady at Clar’s hadn’t explained to me how it was made and the details of each bead, the gold, the cameo.  But I stuck to my guns and it is up for auction in April. I may regret it, but I may feel a bit more free. I won’t know till I am somewhere in my future life, nun or no nun.