The End: When endings are the doorway to beginning

In an interview released yesterday, Eugene Peterson said if asked, he would officiate a gay marriage. As I am sure you can imagine, the internet exploded. While I agree with his position, that isn’t actually the part of the interview that brought me to tears. Instead, a bit further down the article, the interviewer spoke of endings. Mr. Peterson is 84 years old, reaching the end of a beautiful career and lifetime. The interviewer asked, “One day, as with all of us, Eugene Peterson will not be someone who exists. He will be somebody who did exist once. When that moment comes, how do you hope people will remember Eugene Peterson?”

What a question, eh? One day you will no longer exist. Here is a portion of his response…

“I haven’t been part of anything big. I’ve never been a big church preacher. I’ve never been on the radio or anything like that. I’m so pleased that people care about what I’ve done and support it because these are difficult times for the church. I’m quite aware of that. Anyway, I guess I’m just surprised that anyone would remember at all.

This is where I cried. For a thousand reasons, this honest, gentle response touched my soul. Not three sentences earlier he uttered words that will echo across blogs and tweets and facebook rants for weeks to come, without changing much. No, it’s the gift of his long, consistently beautiful life which we will remember, and he didn’t do any of it for fame or recognition. This is beautiful.

Last week I told my husband, I feel I’ve written out all my bitterness. I still have things I am angry about, of course: injustice, 45, the ways we treat each other. These things make me angry, and they should. Anger is a catalyst for change; I hope I never lose it. But bitterness is anger we turn inward, hanging on to it like a trophy, to prove our rightness, our superiority. At some point, that feeling flowed out of my fingertips and disappeared. My heart feels buoyant, expansive, and filled with light.

I have changed. Nothing else about our situation has. I’m still checking the weather in other people’s cities. I’m still a misfit in a conformist culture. I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. I really haven’t figured out anything at all. But I understand myself better, and if that is the only thing I take away from the last 100 days, then it is worth the hours and days of effort I put into it.

But it isn’t my only takeaway, not at all. Writing for one hundred days has helped me rediscover my voice, the one I use to speak when I’m not defensive or wounded or (very) afraid.  I learned to sit comfortably with fear, but not with silence, not anymore. I understand now that  I am most powerful when I love well, and sometimes the best way to love well is to let go.

Most importantly, I know I am not alone. You all came with me. Maybe not every day, but you showed up. You spoke up. You let good enough be good enough on days when showing up was the best I could do. I didn’t take this journey alone. I hope that you may also have felt a bit less lonely you yourself. Deconstruction is a difficult, often isolating experience. It’s good to hear the voices of others to help you feel normal, sane or at the very least, not condemned. Like Eugene, I’m just surprised anyone cared enough to read at all. That’s the truth.

I love new beginnings. I always have. But endings? I haven’t always done well with those. Still, here we are. Together at the end, one hundred days later. It takes an ending to give birth to something else new.

There it is. Can you see it?

 

 

How to be human again: remembering our divine self

I’m experiencing a sort of reading nirvana right now. I truly believe the right book arrives at the right time. At least, it’s been my own experience. I’m currently reading several books: one about the Bible, one by a Buddhist nun and several books about Islam. Honestly, the ways they weave together and overlap is nothing short of holy. I’m having divine encounters each and every time I drink in words, lately. I keep taking off my shoes and watching for burning bushes. It’s amazing.

(This is the part where you either decide I’ve completely lost my mind, or you’re sticking with me forever. Bless you, whichever way you choose.)

Anyway, one of the ideas I encountered today was the necessity of relearning to be human. It began with the context of the Jewish people leaving Egypt and wandering out into the wilderness after centuries of slavery. I can’t think of anything more dehumanizing than human slavery, can you? Anyway, the reason the Mosaic law, and especially the Big Ten came into being was to help remind the Israelites how to be humans in community. When you leave a place where your life is defined by an utter lack of control, boundaries, and inherent worth, you lose part of what makes you a compassionate, empathetic human being. It isn’t intentional; it’s survival.

And freedom, when it comes, if it comes, can be so overwhelming, you either shut down or glut yourself on it until you explode. We need guidance. We need a framework to show us how to live well and fully without exploiting our new found power and responsibility. It’s no simple thing to be free, not if we want to do it well.

Enter some rules. Given not to bind people up again, but to guide people along a path of life. This is the way, walk in it, the guidelines say. Not with whips and threats of harm, but with smiles and open arms of welcome. This is life. This is love. Follow me.

Because we are free, it is up to us whether or not we listen to the Divine voice in our souls. All of us have it, but sometimes we forget. We need reminders of how to be human.  Or maybe we’ve believed the lie that humanity is wicked, untrustworthy and despised and so we no longer wish to be human at all, loving or otherwise. We set our eyes entirely on eternity and try to push the world away, out of sight, out of mind.

But you know, I don’t believe this is true of humanity. Certainly, Jesus did not despise himself or his companions, or the world as he walked in it. No, He loved. And when we’d forgotten the nature of the Divine who has always, always been singing us down the path of Life even since before time, Jesus came to remind us again. How to be human. How to live life, fully.

I’ve written a great deal these last three months about recovery and deconstruction and all the wounds and ways of healing I’ve encountered along the way. I’m relearning how to be human too. Sometimes it’s felt narrow and private, cold and lonely. But it’s bigger now, more like standing in a field in the pouring rain, arms open and face tilted to the sky. It’s wild and welcoming, and a little bit crazy. But it’s alive and oh so sweet and powerful as well.

I remember. I am reconstructing. May I not forget again.

Ten Guideposts for being more human
  • I will remember to seek the Divine
  • I will seek to be in the moment without numbing or distraction
  • I will love humanity as it is, not as I would have it.
  • I will speak kindly of all people
  • I will rest
  • I will act lovingly to family, friends, neighbors, and strangers
  • I will honor life
  • I will love and enjoy my marriage
  • I will hold what is mine loosely and share generously
  • My yes will be yes and my no will be no
  • I will remember that everyone is living a beautiful and difficult story

Coddiwomple: Moving into an unknown future

So, here’s a funny thing: I don’t know what’s next. Stranger still, I’ve made an odd form of peace with it. Me, the planner, the anticipator, the dreamer, has simply decided come what may, it will be alright. This reaction is unusual for me. Sometimes I sit with it and hold it softly, like a rock on my tongue, unfamiliar and secret. I actually found the word today to describe this state of being: coddiwomple. Isn’t it great? It’s real world, I’ll wait while you google it.

Coddiwomple:

Origin: English Slang Word

Definition: To travel in a purposeful manner towards a vague destination.

It’s been ninety-five days since I started writing a blog a day. Simply focusing on one habit suddenly brought other habits into focus, good and bad. When I’m not writing every day, I work on other things – adding and removing, shifting, adjusting, making peace with the fact that some changes stick and some fail, and some should never have been changed in the first place.

Somehow, making space in each day for transparency, opened up space for other things I was either too fearful or too busy to try before. Let’s face it, even a routine we hate can be more comfortable than the new and unfamiliar. Or perhaps the sheer scope of possibility is too wide open for us to consider, after all, we’re certain to make a wrong choice with so many options in front of us, hey? When you wrestle with perfection, this is a truly paralyzing thought.

I’ll be the first person to tell you I’m a work in progress, someone who still has a great deal of progress to make. But the fact that I can look back and see the heavy burdens I’ve carried littering the path behind me lets me know I’m at least headed in the right direction. I may not be certain where I’ll end up, but I’m no longer afraid of being someone different when I arrive. In fact, I desire exactly that, a reborn me, fresh and new in the sunshine.

Surprisingly, there’s a fair number of things about myself I plan to keep, as well. I’m not throwing everything, far from it. My journey this year is revealing things I’d forgotten that I really like about myself. Self-love and self-care have brought these buried treasure to light again. I won’t be casting them by the wayside so quickly, but I’m willing to refine and redirect them as necessary. Only time will make those refinements clear. 

And so I coddiwomple along, unsure of my next move, my purpose or what I want to be when I grow up. But I’m learning to embrace the journey; even here there is purpose and direction. I don’t have to know the destination. I only need to take the next step.

Sanity for Breakfast, with a side of freedom.

This morning I met a friend for breakfast and coffee. She is often busy during the summer months, so it’s been a few weeks since I last saw her. As we shared about family and events and, as always, books we’ve been reading, I told her how I have no real plans or responsibilities until September. I swear her jaw hit the table.

Really? She asked, What in the world do you do?

I responded, Honestly? Whatever I want.

I wish I knew what words to use to convey how incredibly free I felt in that moment. I do what I want.

For many reasons, I developed a co-dependent personality in my formative years. Like any other pattern of behavior, once you learn to react a certain way, until you recognize and relearn new behaviors, that is the way you always react. Once I learned codependency, it didn’t matter if the relationship was healthy or unhealthy, I saw it through a co-dependent lens.

Although my co-dependency didn’t stem from abuse, it knew exactly how to react to it, which means for years I have danced to the tune of things will get better when you act better. I lost myself in this dance, literally. When everything is about the image you project, you forget what is real and what is merely imaginary. I lost myself, my preferences, my opinions, my desires…my identity. I don’t say this bitterly, nor do I blame one person or thing. Things happened to me; I reacted. This is life.

Fortunately for me, I reached an IHHE (I-have-had-enough) moment two years ago. I couldn’t diagnose the issue then, but I knew I needed help. I might not have sought out that help had I known the depth and extent of reconstruction required to learn sanity. But now that I am on the other side I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.

I saw a picture earlier this week:

sanity
I’ve never heard anything truer than this. I have felt absolutely crazy time and again over these last years. I’ve cried and yelled and thrown things. It is gut-wrenching, soul-shaking work learning to be sane, don’t ever let anyone tell you something different.

But oh. Oh, this morning I looked at my friend and told her I do what I want, whatever form that takes. That moment was freedom. Freedom from caring what other people think or expect or demand. That moment was sanity. To know who I am, what I like, what I want, after so many years of trying to measure myself by everyone else’s standard is like taking a deep, quenching drink from clean, clear water after years of sucking tepid, rinse water from a sponge.

This creative Sabbath, this window of unbroken time, is like a capstone course after two years of hard work, study, and unending support. This is where I begin to use all the skills I’ve worked so hard to master. This is me owning my life again.

All I needed was a cup of coffee to make everything clear.

A quiet refrain: why wasting time matters

This morning I had some thoughts about boredom. I’m reading a book by a Buddhist nun, as one does, and in it she speaks of the need to refrain. Refraining is the first step on the path of mindfulness. She says this:

“Refraining–not habitually acting out impulsively–has something to do with giving up entertainment mentality. Through refraining, we see there is something between the arising of the craving–or the lonliness or the aggresion or whatever it might be–and whatever action we take as a result. There is something there in us that we don’t want to experience, and we never do experience, because we’re so quick to act.”

Hi, I’m Dana, and I’m a habitual numb-er and self-distract-er.

This is something I have become more mindful of lately, my penchant for distraction. Honestly, I think it’s something we all do without really thinking about it – which is why it’s habitual. For myself, this happens for at least two reasons. The first is that we live in a productivity driven culture. Empty time is an anathema. In fact, we are consistently guilty of double-booking, over-scheduling and undervaluing rest and relaxation. Ask the next ten people you know how they are and at least six of them will respond with “busy.”

We check our phones when we wait in line.
If we’re out to eat, the news and at least one sporting event plays in the background.
Most world events that happened more than twelve hours ago are barely relevant.

We are as tuned in, turned on, active and informed as any people have ever been anywhere. It makes us feel so terribly important to be so.

We fill time because culture expects it. If we aren’t producing something, we are wasting time. We’ve elevated busy to a status symbol. I’m not pointing fingers. I am very much talking about me.

Lately though, I’m trying to shift my focus by refraining for a moment in the margin, that space between what I am doing now and what I intend to do next. I pause. I consider. And sometimes, if the thing I’m reaching for will only distract from the present, I let it go.  I experience boredom in grocery lines. Sometimes I even eat a meal with no noise and no book. Just me and food. I don’t even invite the monkey brain (sometimes she shows up anyway).

The second reason I think we fill our time so completely is because we are afraid to who we might find in the silence. As a whole, I don’t believe we like ourselves very much. Whether it’s society telling us we don’t measure up to the latest trending standard, or religious institutions convincing us of inherent evil, we just don’t experience in a very self-compassionate existence. The more consciously I create margin in my life, the more I hear the self-destructive messages the world sends us echoing around in my head. I think it’s killing us; I know it was killing me.

When I make space in time, in my head, in my soul, I can replace those toxic messages with something real and valuable and loving. I can finally hear other, more beautiful but less clamorous messages writ on my soul in a deeper, quieter language, the one the world tries so hard to drown out.

I’m thinking about all of these things in relation to my summer break. Honestly, I’ve tried to convince myself it’s a selfish, lazy, foolish endeavor. A waste of time. But that isn’t the truest message, it’s simply the loudest. It’s the message the gods of productivity and self-loathing would have me believe. The true message is that my soul is created by love, to love and for love. My worth is based not in what I produce, but because of whose I am. I don’t have to fill time to matter.  I don’t have to be afraid of what I will find inside of myself, and I don’t have to prove it to anyone by working hard. Even if I’m bored, uncertain and unproductive, there is beauty and worth to experience.

I will refrain, and in that space, find peace.

Walking through Anxiety; Getting through when I cant get over

Several weeks ago, I shared part of my story in the main session of Celebrate Recovery. After I finished, someone came up to me and said, I’m so glad to hear you’re over everything now. My heart kind of stopped a little, and I gently said, I’m not over it. It gets better, but I’m not over it. Some things we don’t get over. We simply get through them and come out the other side different. Then we have to learn who we are all over again. That’s what I’m doing now. I thought about this interaction yesterday after yet another little attack from my friend, anxiety.

That makes two specific incidents in a weekish, after a month or more of no sign of anxiety at all. At first, it made me angry. I mean, I thought I was over it! But then I remembered this exchange and I considered what I knew about each episode. Both centered around areas where I still do not feel safe, where I probably am not going to be safe, but which I cannot entirely avoid either. Life is like that sometimes. Sometimes we have to look the shark in the mouth. Sometimes the best, safest, most important thing to do is to get as far away from the situation as possible. I’ve done that too, but in this specific instance, it isn’t called for.

If what I said about getting through a thing is true (and I believe it is) then I am on the right track. Some days I get through it better than others. Some days, I have to go places I would rather not, whether physically or mentally. For awhile, even that thought gave me anxiety. But now, I can assess a situation and realize it’s more likely that I will walk through it healthfully than anxiously. This is a win, a really, really big win.

But sometimes, well sometimes anxiety is going to be there. It’s going to grab me and choke me and tell me everyone is out to get me. But it happens infrequently enough that I am now saying What the actual junk! rather than Here we go again!  Friends, that is a win in my book. When anxiety is the outlier in my response pattern towards stressful situations, I am healing. I’ll take that.

And even though, yes, I had some episodes recently, they were just that, episodes. Instead of anxiety sending me home to climb into my bed and numb myself on netflix. I breathed (thank you meditation), stopping to examine the triggers.  I even identified what set me off rather than just triggering for no apparent reason. Then I was able to ride it out and have an otherwise normal day.

All of these things are very good things. Very, very, good things.

Maybe I had to shut out the world for several days, step outside for a few moments, stop and breathe on the corner a little while, but it’s getting better. I can’t remember the time I spent a whole day with the stone of anxiety sitting in my gut, pushing bile up my throat. I’m not retreating to bed to block out the world. I’m getting through it, making steps to come out the other side of this changed, with scars and new ways of understanding a place I once considered safe, a place I will never be able to just avoid.

Maybe I’m not going to get over this, and that’s ok.  But I am going to get through it. And I already like the person I’m learning to be on the other side. Take that.

 

Learning to let go; releasing resentment and control

This summer, it’s shaping up to be wet and muggy. Honestly, I hoped to be elsewhere by now. I’ve made no bones about how I feel about a deep south summer; they stink. (I promise this whole post is NOT a rant about summer.) But last night as I was journaling, when I answered the “What do you need let go of today?” question, I said, I need to let go of resentment over being here for summer.

I have to tell, staring at your honest unfiltered words on paper is a terribly humbling experience most days.

Friends, how much energy am I wasting over being pissed at summer for…well…being summer and for my lack of control over it? So much, apparently.

Which got me to thinking, how widespread is this issue for me? I expend so much concern and frustration over things I do not now, nor will I ever, have the power to influence or change. Global things like the weather, intimate things like failed relationships, family things like what if something bad happens to someone I love.

Yesterday, I shared about uncertainty, which seems to have unleashed a chain-reaction of insight. Not only do I try to distract myself from the discomfort of uncertainty, I actively try to reverse it. It’s like I’m bailing with a teacup after my rowboat was hit by a freighter. So much effort expended with less than zero possibility of affecting the outcome.

Maybe it’s obvious to everyone but me that this is why I really needed a period of hibernation. I can’t escape the daily deluge of crap that seems to threaten the existence of the entire planet. Most of which, I cannot control.  Raging against everything has depleted me utterly.

I must learn to let go.

Now I wish I could expound upon how I will go about all this letting go (a minimalist shouldn’t struggle with this so much, you would think). Unfortunately, I’m not sure how it will look. But I have to do this for my own well-being. I’m beginning to realize these internal seismic tremors aren’t just spiritual. They signal shifts that occur across every aspect of my life: relational, physical, emotional and spiritual. I can’t dismantle one and leave the others intact. Everyone’s along for the ride.

Fortunately, I believe in the saying, when the student is ready, the teacher appears. Having experienced this before, I believe I am already learning to let go, even before I knew why I was learning. Meditation, journaling, withdrawing from harmful places and situations are all tools of release. Even when I didn’t know why I needed them, I was practicing them.

So here I am, ready to tolerate summer (hey, it’s a stretch to ask me to embrace it), and lean into being exactly where I am for one more sweaty season. Even if it isn’t comfortable, it can still be very, very good. And I can learn to let go of what is not, without trying to fix it.

Leaning into Uncertainty: accepting the gift of this moment

If you were to look in my journal – a fate I’d not wish on anyone – you would see a frequent refrain. I wish I knew what is next. Nearly every day in some form or another, I express this desire to know, to know what’s next, to not feel so uncertain about…well, almost everything. What I have a tendency to forget, in fact what we as a culture try to whitewash continually, is the fact that there is very little that is certain. Cars crash. Parents age. Cancers grow. Jobs disappear. The list goes on and on. Although we invest our money and purchase life, car, health, dental, vision and pet insurance, we are still not immune catastrophe. Or at the very least, discomfort.

This kind of talk makes me the hit of every party.

I believe it’s this sense of uncertainty that is weighing so heavily on my soul lately. I’ve shared over the last couple months of writing that I am in a season of endings. While ending can be emotionally fraught, they are a natural part of life. We must have endings in order to have beginnings, but we resist the former and embrace the latter. Maybe it’s because of the emotions associated with endings: fear, anger, sorrow. Even the best ending is seldom entirely joyful. I have even protested myself that I am not sad about these endings, but when I say this, I am not being entirely true to myself. I am sad. But sorrow itself takes so many forms, the warmth of nostalgia, the darkness of grief, bitter tang of regret. Sadness is not the enemy we have been taught to believe.

It may be that I have mistakenly tried to distract myself from uncertainty by anticipating what’s next. Anticipation is one of my favorite emotions, allowing me to experience a wonderful thing many times before it occurs. This seems a much more enjoyable process than allowing a season of endings to take it’s allotted time. I pretend I have control by trying to force events, emotions, probability. Constantly erecting barricades of expectation only to be crushed beneath them when they crumble. In this way, I am my own worst enemy.

Withdrawing a bit from all the voices of the outside world, lovely and unlovely, is a way for me to ground myself in the present. Whether I feel joy or sorrow, whether or not I know what’s next, I can live this moment. I may not know what’s coming next, but I can decide what I will bring to the moment I inhabit. When I fight against uncertainty, I bring a combative, controlling presence. But when I embrace the unknown I bring peace both within and without. How can I resist conflict in the world when I create conflict within myself?

I can’t.

My task right now is to be present. Excruciatingly, vulnerably, joyously present. This moment and who I choose to be in it is the only certainty I get. Learning to accept this, to embrace  this miracle of now is the path I walk today. Whether the path is beautiful or wretched is entirely up to me.

Things falling apart is kind of testing and also a kind of healing. We think the point is to pass the test or overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together and they 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. -Pema Chodren

Hibernation Zone: When I can’t get no satisfaction

One of the things I love about our annual family trips to the beach is how very isolated we are. We stay offline, barely even taking phone calls or texts. We sometimes stay outdoors from sun-up to sundown. It’s like living in a safe, gentle bubble with only the wind and  the waves and one million books to keep us company. It really is my favorite time of year. This year I seem to be particularly anxious for it to arrive, I think it’s the hibernation factor. I feel the need to unplug (ironic, I know, as I say this online).

This week I’ve been particularly edgy (not that you’d notice- wink, wink). The political atmosphere is very hard for me to escape. I can’t find the balance between informed and sane. Actually, it’s sanity I truly struggle to find. It’s bleeding into all the areas of my life. I can’t, in good conscience, completely shut down, but even being informed leaves me feeling enraged and powerless.

Honestly, my general attitude about everything is dissatisfaction.

So what do I do when I’m cranky, and snappy and generally dissatisfied? I’m giving into my urge for hibernation.

It’s a long, holiday weekend so I won’t be torturing myself with guilt over pulling out of the information cyclone for awhile. Hopefully the fire hose wanes to a trickle for a week or so.  Either way, I won’t be around to see it. No news, no email, no social media. At least until I get grip on this mood.

I’m not leaving the house. I might love to be home slightly more than a normal person should. It’s not so much about the house, just the home part. Give me a day on the back deck with the dogs and some food and a stack of good books and I am a happy girl. Today I shopped for groceries for one billion years so now I get to hide away from the world until the food runs out again.

I plan to read until my eyeballs fall out, run until my lungs make me stop, meditate, listen to good music, smooch on my Hunky, and generally find my happy again. I know it’s in there. It just needs to wake up from hibernation. I’m coaxing it out with all my best moves.

 

Cranky when Writing: when Creativity runs dry

I’m cranky about writing today. It’s true.

It only took 84 days for me to run out of words but I feel all dried up of creativity. Which is, of course, tinged with irony since it is the first day of my creative sabbath. Perhaps I’m frozen by possibility again? It still happens from time to time.

I had a little anxiety moment on my run this morning. Those triggers can go off unexpectedly. I can’t live with my guard up all the time, but boy when those things hit you with your guard down, they can drop you before you know it. I’ve been shoo-ing that demon out all day now.

Also I’d rather be reading. Some days all I want to do is curl up with a book and lose myself. Maybe I just think losing myself is preferable to living with myself on an angsty sort of day.  At least the van has working AC again.

Here’s the thing, we all get to have an off day, whatever the reason. The days we hide in the bedroom with cups of tea and grump for no-good-reason. It happens. I used to fight harder against it, but struggling only binds me more tightly. If I just let myself be prickly awhile, eventually I come out the other side.  I do feel kind of sorry for Hunky, though, while it’s going on. He’s sort of collateral damage.

Maybe that’s the lesson for me today. We get grumpy and prickly and blah sometimes, and that’s how it is. Instead of beating ourselves up over it, “shoulding ourselves to death” my friend would say, we can just lean in. Everything is temporary. This too shall pass.

So what you can know about my first day of creativity is that I am literally counting words as I type to meet my minimum requirement. I letting go of perfection and saying this is good enough. And tomorrow is another day. For better or worse, I’ve done what I could do.