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.”

Alice_a-dressing_the_White_Queen

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

Light on the Aging Adventurer Archetype

The First Person Blog morphed into a Third Person Blog ( Both will still be working Blogs from Different View Points)        For Third Person Story see: “Her Name”

The Personal Stuff stays right here.

“You are a guiding light for us all, a symbol that (at this entrenched age where we get more and more attached to our routines) change is liberating and courage abounds. Thanks for holding that adventurer archetype!” ~From A friend on my journey

“The concept of the archetype, which is an indispensable correlate to the idea of the collective unconscious, indicates the existence of definite forms in the psyche which seem to be present always and everywhere.” (from Carl Jung’s 1936 lecture on “The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious,” Collected Works, Vol. 9.i, pars. 87-110.

The friend’s comment made Nellie pause and scrunch up her forehead. She did not own being a guiding light for anyone.  And what does getting older mean?  She was puzzled by the idea that we become “entrenched”.  It was hard for her to wrap her thinking around becoming entrenched or held by routines that go unexamined.
Entrenched brought to mind her fight with the idea of “hunkering down”. She bristled at the concept, a concept that people, she knew, only wanted to hunker down.  It just made her feel squirmy, depressed, stuck, enclosed. It made her feel as if she was curled up with a blanket pulled taught over her head and she was pretty sure she would never, ever emerge again. In fact, she was certain that was true.  It brought to mind a life sentence of submergence, possible severe depression and in this case, the opposite of freedom and therefore the opposite of Nellie’s life

She knew life was that hard, from too much experience, and she was always trying to find ways to make life easier.  She was a seeker, a healer and a Scorpio who wanted to understand the dark, death, life and The Mystery.

“In the sweet territory of silence, we touch the mystery. It’s the place of reflection and contemplation, and it’s the place where we can connect with the deep knowing, to the deep wisdom way.” Angeles Arrien

Hunkering down made Nellie feel as if she would be surrendering to the difficulty of living and she, the Mountain Climbing Goat Woman, Capricorn rising, was not interested in succumbing, or surrendering.

She had so many questions about aging. Do people just get tired of how much work life is, so a routine is something they don’t have to think about? Do people decide that sticking to all that is familiar is the best bet, no more adventures into life, because who knows what could happen?  Or is it just about our beliefs and the stories we tell to make sure our beliefs are real. Perhaps it is simply the character we come into the world with. Or perhaps something about karma?
Nellie could feel her brain darting around to comprehend this aging business. She grew up with Aquarius parents, at one time young socialist, always interested in the new, the different, the interesting, conforming enough to live very comfortably and generously, which suited Nellie well.  Among the things that made up family life were jokes made about aging bodies but always there was due respect for elders, their wisdom, gifts, and talents.  There was something of a tongue and cheek acceptance about aging and criticism for those complaining too much.  So watching people age in her world, was not about slowing, hunkering or being entrenched.  Nellie learned that aging was yet another adventure; the wrinkles spoke wisdom and sometimes there were difficult, challenging and upsetting times, sometimes heart warming, sweet and loving experiences.
Nellie was indeed an adventurer, mostly solo, and sometimes a person might come along for a bit.  Her dog, Henry or The Mr. was always with her.  Her life journey was never about safe and this current stretch was a lot about the opposite of safe.  Nellie knew she had a propensity for wanting to do things differently.  Her character served her well this way.  She wanted adventures, she loved statements like Life is Art because it suggested embedding creativity into every moment of every breath.  With this, she was reminded to keep things sacred, stand outside, watch with new eyes, breathe, move to get a new angle or perspective and let the moment change her, even if for one second.  And that brief moment could be an adventure.
The forethought, which many people were naturally inclined to have, often eluded Nellie, which made her life both rich with adventure, including some necessary and some not so necessary drama.  When she was younger, she thought she should do something just because it scared her.  Now, she does things a bit less recklessly, but still trying things that aren’t about staying or doing the same as what she has known.
Nellie was a young girl when her family took the 2-3 hour drive to Lowden State Park, Il where her father snapped photos of her, her mother, brother, and cousin at the Black Hawk Statue.  Of that trip, she remembers being with her family, enjoying her father’s sense of adventure, the cigar smoke blown into the backseat which made her vaguely nauseous, the cool jackets her mom had made for her and her cousin offering the cozy comfort Nellie took in wearing what her mother had made.  And there was the angst Nellie remembers over wanting to play with her brother but thinking he just didn’t like her all that much.
                                      floellen056-lowden-state-park-ill.jpgRobert, Ellen Michael Lowden State Park, Il 1956?.JPG
Life, then, was hard for Nellie. And, why was that? What happened? What didn’t happen?  Was this story necessary to tell again? Really?

The Land of Many Weathers

6/12/17

Now in Evanston three months, she bought more clothes hangers and then unpacked the box of clothes she shlepped from Tewksbury Heights, CA. Unsure of what the unpacking and hanging of clothes meant, she just began to hang the clothes piece by piece, examining them and wondering about her choices of what she had decided to bring and what she left stored back in California. She wasn’t sure if it meant anything or everything. She wasn’t sure if unpacking meant she was staying for longer than the next month or not.  She did begin to know how long she was staying by the next trip she was taking or when family or friends were coming to visit.  She definitely knew she was not settling in. The idea of being settled was not right, it was wrong timing, and she wasn’t going to get settled until it felt right.  All she knew was that something had changed.

She lived with a family who were most welcoming and what stood out most was the sweet “Good Morning”, she heard every day from her hostess. She said it as if every morning was a wonderful new day and a delight to see her.  It was those little things that seemed to catch her attention just as the tougher things caught her in an entirely different way.

The tougher things that changed had to do with her move near an old friend who she had not lived around for years, very very many years.  They had been friends longer than any other friendship and it was coming to an end as they had known it.  The contrast of the relationship then and now, assured her that she had changed.  At times, the relationship now made life very awkward.  Loss of this relationship as it had been, was very sad, deeply disappointing, and had an effect on her she knew she would not fully apprehend until sometime later. This friendship had defined her in some way and was something she had leaned on for many years even over the many miles between Evanston and the Bay Area. Over the 35+ years, she had carried the idea of the friend around in her psyche, ignoring the parts of the relationship that were difficult and focusing on the parts that were supportive.

With her move across the country, she learned to awaken to her present life, becoming less interested in drama and crisis in her life.  She could find herself deeply focused on Buddhist studies raising thoughts of shaving her head and joining a monastery as a Bikkhuni, all the while thinking a shaved head could be wonderful and wondering if she could ever let go of all her possessions.

She was drawn to being of service as it took her out of the mindless critique that could plague her.  She had heard so many people talk about having the same critic in their heads that she began to envision it as a mass mind, a gigantic critic lurking around corners, everywhere, always on the watch with vigilance, and would just jump in to add its commentary anytime someone felt the slightest bit off guard or vulnerable.

Somehow being here on Lake Michigan and the land of many weathers, she found her body relaxing in a way she had forgotten she could do.  The critic took up less airtime though she didn’t really understand why.  Was it just the magic of Lake Michigan, the way it could be smooth and calm one minute and roiling with waves the next? Was it the sound of water lapping up onto the beach? Or was it just how friendly strangers were, truly friendly sharing dog stories, or telling her that the dress she tried on at the consignment shop looked great. Possibly, it was just her and the fact she felt truly at home here, at least for now, and so energetically more open to people? When she thought like this, about energy, she knew she had been in California a very long time.

Another thing she knew was the comfort she took in the light and shadows along the park shores, lake and the streets of Evanston, and how the weather changed bringing her right to the present. It moved her out of thinking about the old tired relationship she was disappointed by and took her out of other thoughts about being crazy for making this move.  The changeable weather was like moments of waking up to right now, with each shift; heat at 90 degrees, gusts of wind at 20 mph, drop in temp to 70 in a second, full sun and then overcast in a minute which was always a relief from the heat. Though she could wonder how winter would be, so far it was all just fine with her. It was more than fine, it was good, very good.

 

 

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.