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So you’ve probably noticed that it’s been kind of quiet around here lately. Even though I’ve been moving through so many different situations at what seems like the speed of light, for the first time in my 35 years, I seem to be out of words to describe what’s currently going on in my life.
I haven’t really known how to BE in this place, because always before, even if everything else fell apart, I could always fall back on a cushion of words to soften the blow. So I turned to one of my tried and true coping strategies, namely; “When in doubt, freak out.”
Because I am nothing if not generous, not to mention an excellent Drama Queen, I decided to share the freaky love with my coach during one of our sessions.
“GOD,” I announced, in my best, quivering, innocent-victim-of-the-universe voice, “God has taken all my words away! The one thing I most loved to do in the world, and now He’s taken it away from me for no reason!”
In what can only be described as a Superhuman Exercise Of Will which most likely led to severe internal hemorrhaging on her part, not only did my coach NOT laugh at me, but somehow she was also able to ask me helpful, non-mocking coachful questions to help me work through this issue.
“Well,” she asked, “does everything you write on your blog have to be funny?”
“Uh, DUH! YES!!” I replied. (Aren’t I just a dream client? Don’t you want to coach me too?) Fortunately she has raised two children, so she never takes snottiness personally.
“OK,” she replied, recognizing an Intractable Brick Wall Of Stubbornness when she saw one, “think about this. You had a plan for your blog when you started it three years ago. But you’re not the same person you were three years ago. Think about everything that has happened over the past year. So what if you could allow your blog and your writing to change, and reflect who and where you are now?”
She makes a good point. Especially given the fact that, if I had to give it a title, the theme of this past year would be,
I have hurt, in some way, every single day, for the past eight months.
Eight months of sickness, trauma, my life being completely out of my control, and pain.
One day last October I lost my health. Not because of anything I did or didn’t do. Not for any logical, rational reason. Just ‘cuz.
Overnight, I lost the ability to be the person I had been, and do everything I’d been doing up to that point.
This is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to deal with.
I never knew pain could hurt like this.
And even though I seem to have reached a place where the original illness is gone and the side effects are more or less managed, who’s to say they won’t show up again one day, out of the blue, for absolutely no reason at all? My body, my mind, my emotions, they are all tied up in knots and braced against more pain. Because I remember the pain. And I don’t know if I could bear to go through it again.
This was, and continues to be, a huge trauma for me. And I really don’t know how to be with it.
But I am still here. I do show up every day, even if all I do is open my eyes in the morning and acknowledge that I’ve arrived at the beginning of another day.
And maybe, just maybe, that’s enough.
“Things falling apart is a kind of testing and also a kind of healing. We think that the point is to pass the test or to overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and then they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.” (p.8)
“The spiritual journey is not about heaven and finally getting to a place that’s really swell. In fact, that way of looking at things is what keeps us miserable. Thinking that we can find some lasting pleasure and avoid pain is what in Buddhism is called samsara, a hopeless cycle that goes round and round endlessly and causes us to suffer greatly.” (p.9)
-Pema Chodron, When Things Fall Apart
When I read those two passages, I felt every single cell in my body take a huge, deep breath and relax. Because what those words said to me was, “There’s no other place you’re supposed to be than exactly where you are right now, sickness, mess, low energy, uncertainty and all. So relax-you are just fine.”
Whenever I get into the story that being “enlightened” and “spiritual” means that I can only ever feel blissed out and peaceful all the time, besides making me want to gouge my eyes out with a very dull spatula (because seriously, how freaking boring would that be?!), it also makes me judge myself, my feelings, my thoughts, and my life as “wrong” on days like today when every muscle in my body hurts, I can only sit by and watch the undone housework pile up, and I just want to yell at Personal Growth and New Thought and tell them to SUCK IT! And so according to my old story of what “spiritual” looks like, this day is “wrong” and “doesn’t count”, and I have to figure out a way to get to some new, different place that is somehow “right” and “acceptable”.
But not anymore. Because if those paragraphs are true, and they certainly felt true for me when I read them, then the fact that I don’t have to hurry up and get somewhere else or try and measure up to some kind of external standard of “good enough” spirituality means that this moment right now is, in fact, enough, and good enough, and already contains infinite possibilities for lots of juicy goodness, even while I’m feeling miserable.
So I took a breath. And then I took a bath. I listened to a CD of Bach’s French Suites. And I felt sick as a dog. And-it was all good.
Edited To Add: No, I take that back. It wasn’t all good, but it was all okay. And it was all part of my spiritual life for today.
Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net.
Every so often my life leads me to a place that I think of as The Wall, which I know are places within myself where I am not yet able to act from love. I can tell when I’ve reached another one, because I feel exactly like I’ve hurled myself headlong into an extremely solid brick wall at about 120 miles an hour. Then I pick myself up off the ground, dust myself off, and do it all over again.
I usually bash around quite a bit before I am able to find a more gentle, easier way to get past my latest wall. My first response is always to go for the sledgehammer, without even stopping to ask if there’s another tool that could possibly get the job done. I just get so frustrated whenever I am stuck in a pattern of thoughts, and I can’t find another way to see a given situation.
Sometimes the “sledgehammer method” does help me to release my frustration, but it is a pretty brutal method of navigating through life. So over the past few years I’ve started to ask if maybe there’s another way I could approach these situations in which I feel so stagnant and stuck.
Of course the Universe loves it when we ask questions like this, and so it was not long before I was inspired to pick up Martha Beck’s book on The Joy Diet. In addition to giving us 10 practices for creating a more joyful life, she also talks about Bill O’Hanlon and his suggestion to Do One Thing Differently. As in, if you find yourself having the same argument over and over again with your spouse, the next time you have the argument you have to Do One Thing Differently, like put on a hat, or have the argument while lying in the bathtub.
It sounds silly, but holy cow does it work! I guess committing to take some kind of action opens up a space for new thoughts to come in.
So I decided to apply this strategy to my latest wall, and over the weekend my inner guidance started talking to me about Pema Chodron. I saw a quote of hers on a blog I read, and suddenly she was all I could think about. Suddenly they were replaying Oprah’s radio interview with Pema Chodron on the afternoon I was listening to XM’s “Oprah and Friends” channel. Suddenly I found myself reading the descriptions of all her books on Amazon. And this whole time my inner guidance was chanting, “Get thee to a bookstore,” so I finally went, if only to get that little voice to shut up.
At the bookstore I found a little volume titled, When Things Fall Apart, which is perfect for me because that is exactly how I feel about my life right now. I feel like everything has broken open and spilled out, and maybe I can catch a few grains over here, and mop up a few drops over there, but I can’t change the fact that there’s a great big mess on the table in front of me, at least in my mind.
Pema Chodron describes her own “falling apart” in this way:
“What happened when I got to the abbey was that everything fell apart. All the ways I shield myself, all the ways I delude myself, all the ways I maintain my well-polished self-image-all of it fell apart. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t manipulate the situation. My style was driving everyone else crazy, and I couldn’t find anywhere to hide.
I had always thought of myself as a flexible, obliging person who was well liked by almost everyone. I’d been able to carry this illusion throughout most of my life. During my early years at the abbey, I discovered that I had been living in some kind of misunderstanding. It wasn’t that I didn’t have good qualities, it was just that I was not the ultimate golden girl. I had so much invested in that image of myself, and it just wasn’t holding together anymore. All my unfinished business was exposed vividly and accurately in living Technicolor, not only to myself, but to everyone else as well.” (p. 6,7).
What has come to light for me during these months of sickness and recovery is the issue of self-compassion. I can practice it up to a certain point, but then once I’ve decided that I “should” be better, and I “should” be running at 100%, and I “should” whatever, but I can’t, because I’m still physically rundown and need more time to heal, then I turn into a slave driver and constantly drive and abuse myself mentally. I would never treat another person as meanly as I’ve been treating myself. But I apparently have no problem tyrannizing myself internally to the point of despair.
So I guess it’s finally time for me to learn how to do this differently. I’m not happy about it, but I’ve reached the point where I don’t really have any other choice. Well, I guess I always have a choice, but I’m tired of repeating this same cycle of self-abuse. I guess that I have finally suffered enough. I would really like to start feeling better, and I’ve been doing this long enough now to know that in order to start feeling relief, I need to learn how to change my mind about this situation. So, okay Universe, I’m finally listening. I’m ready for a shift in perception so that I can see this situation differently. And if possible, I’d really like this new view to be sledgehammer-free.