Oneing and Walking Yourself Into Peace

alvaroreguly
Photo credit: Alvaroreguly

I woke up today feeling a little sorry for myself. Here in Indiana, like so many other places, we’ve been ordered to shelter at home unless we go out for essential activities or to be in nature maintaining distance from other people.

This morning felt lonely.  My family lives states away from me.  My significant other and best friends live in other towns. My kids are currently with their dad, and once I start being exposed to COVID patients at the hospital, the plan is for them to stay with him indefinitely so I minimize exposing them as much as possible. I boarded my dog over an hour away the other day, to make things less stressful (he is adorable but like having a toddler) and so he wouldn’t have to be penned for over 12 hours every time I work.  I’m not entirely sure if a dog kennel constitutes an essential business, so I’m also wondering how easy it will be to retrieve him this weekend.

While I live on a cul-de sac, I don’t know my neighbors well and the old man at the end of the street literally thinks I’m a hillbilly because I sometimes leave my recycling dumpster on the curb for more than a day at a time, and because when the basketball goal gets knocked over by the wind, I don’t rush out to put it back up just to be blown back down again.

So I slept in, moped around, played the piano for a while, and then started watching Mad Men from the beginning season to distract myself. I couldn’t even find the internal umph to engage with a new TV show I’d never seen before. Halfway in the first episode, after my coffee had finally kicked in, I came to my senses.  I am not going to sit around and waste this gorgeous day on reruns or feeling sorry for myself. So, I laced up my Altras, and hit the pavement.

*************************************************************************************

I’ve been thinking alot lately about an idea that the mystic Julian of Norwich talked about hundreds of years ago.

“The love of God creates in us such a oneing that when it is truly seen, no person can separate themselves from another person,” and “In the sight of God all humans are oned, and one person is all people and all people are in one person.”

The thing about mystics is they see the world in different ways than the rest of us, and sometimes what they talk about sounds ridiculous.  Until you sit with their words for a long time.  And then, you understand that they are revealing bigger truths than you ever knew.  What I’ve discovered is that with alot of these truths, you can’t mentally, cognitively work your way into understanding or believing them.  You have to experience them, to live them, and to be OK with the fact that sometimes they will seem like nothing short of a paradox on surface level.

Our world has become increasingly smaller over recent decades, and in some ways it has felt like we’re seeing ourselves more as a global population than a bunch of separate national entities.  However, at the same time, like here in America, there have been divides growing strongly and solidly between us.  Nothing has revealed this more clearly than the election of our current President. There is still a great undercurrent in this country of us seeing and interacting with each other based on labels and “otherness”.

As I’ve grown older, I’m seeing more of Julian’s “oneing” when I look at other people.  Sure, there are people that are hard to understand, people that I dislike intensely, or people that I’m gonna intentionally not do life with if I can help it.  But when it comes down to who we are fundamentally, we are all one.  I like the enneagram because it helps us see how we are all motivated by the same kinds of things.  We all have fears and insecurities. We all want to know that we’re OK and everything’s going to be OK.  And what I love, even when it looks like certain people could not be more different, are the words by Carl Sagan, that “we are all made of star stuff.” We all came from the same star dust, that initial universe expansion – the Big Bang or the Big Bounce or whatever physics description you want to refer to.  We were all originally one, and I totally believe, that in a spiritual and metaphysical sense, we are still one.

*************************************************************************************

Normally when I run, I turn to a playlist I’ve created that features alot of fast-beat, loud, empowering songs…ones that have the right cadence to get into a good running rhythm.  Today though, I felt the need to shut off the words for a while and run the music itself. So, it was Beethoven and Aaron Copeland. As the fog faded, the sun began to peek out, and the temperature steadily rose, Appalachian Spring provided the right running mood to pull me out of my woebegone state, reminding me that the coronavirus had not canceled springtime.

I ran a few miles, enjoying the sunshine and sweat, and then thought about turning back toward home. But then I changed my mind. I decided I was going to walk the back country roads outside of my town until I had walked the peace back into myself. I was not going to go home still stressed and concerned; I was going to stay in this springtime until all was well within me again.

Nature itself is a mystic. It cannot be understood or experienced through words or scientific descriptions of how it calms the nervous system.  Well, maybe you can try to talk about it in those ways, but just talking about it doesn’t do the trick.  You have to get out in it for it to work.  But the thing about nature is that it tells us alot about the “personality” of the universe.  Jesus talked in the Gospels about the sparrows and lilies of the field… Here is the passage from Matthew 6 out of The Message translation:

25-26 “If you decide for God, living a life of God-worship, it follows that you don’t fuss about what’s on the table at mealtimes or whether the clothes in your closet are in fashion. There is far more to your life than the food you put in your stomach, more to your outer appearance than the clothes you hang on your body. Look at the birds, free and unfettered, not tied down to a job description, careless in the care of God. And you count far more to him than birds.

27-29 “Has anyone by fussing in front of the mirror ever gotten taller by so much as an inch? All this time and money wasted on fashion—do you think it makes that much difference? Instead of looking at the fashions, walk out into the fields and look at the wildflowers. They never primp or shop, but have you ever seen color and design quite like it? The ten best-dressed men and women in the country look shabby alongside them.

30-33 “If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers—most of which are never even seen—don’t you think he’ll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.

34 “Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.

*************************************************************************************

I really like the translation of that last verse:  give your entire attention to what God is doing right now…He/She/They will help you deal with whatever hard things come up.

This is about being here now, about insisting on staying present, about living in the moment. I’m not one to sit here and throw platitudes at you that we should just pray and God will just fix everything for us. No, I absolutely believe that we have some hard roads ahead of us, we will have to make some difficult decisions, and we are going to experience pain and loss.  I think it would be foolish to say otherwise.

That being said, I think it is also unwise to say that everything is doomed, and this is an area where nature has alot to teach us.

Life…this creative force that is pervasive throughout us as humans and this entire earth, has this remarkable, resilient, insistent urge to fight and claw its way back every single time. Something that I daily marvel at while working in healthcare is how hard our bodies work for us to keep us alive, keep us functional.  We can throw shit food at our bodies, refuse to exercise, make dumb hygiene choices and more…and our bodies (the life surging through our cells) takes whatever we throw their way and provide the best possible results they can for as long as they can.  Life is on our side, even when we refuse to be on our own sides.

Or think about areas where natural disasters occur…fires, volcanoes, whatever…and yet life manages to poke itself out of the dirt through some little creature of nature after everything has laid calm for a bit.

Or, like just today, on my run/walk, evidence of spring coming back again after a cold winter. What seemed dead and withered is suddenly rejuvenated.  The springtime abundance is a reminder that COVID-19 has not locked down life.  It has presented a huge challenge for us, yes, but it has not silenced life.

This is what I was reminded of as I walked mile after mile by the fields, over the streams, under the budding trees.  You have to stop and be here right now to know what is true.  There’s a great story in the Old Testament that illustrates this.  Elijah was being chased by his enemies and holed up in a cave to escape them and rest.  He was desperately trying to find where God was in the midst of his struggle.  Here’s the story from 1 Kings 19:

11 The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”

Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. 13 When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.

Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

*************************************************************************************

The media and news are obviously necessary and can be very helpful as we try to regain our footing and find our way through these uncertain days.  But when we constantly listen to them, it can be easy to panic, lose our way, and become shaky. When we frantically try to find the voices that will solve this pandemic or listen to the fearful voices that are so loud around us….these are what will unsettle us.  We have to stop, calm ourselves, and listen for the whisper.

The whisper is not loud voices from the religious leaders that warn that the coronavirus is God’s retribution for us. It is not the politicians’ and stockmarkets frenzy about the economy and crashing stock prices.  These are the earthquakes.  These are the fire.

The Lord, or Source, or Spirit, or the Ground of Being, or whatever you want to call it, is the whisper that comes when we get really still, when we focus on what is handed to us right now, right here.  And from experience, I can say that the whisper seldom comes with words. Instead, the whisper is peace…a peace we can be brave in, a peace that we can move forward from, a peace that springs forward fresh creativity to solve problems, a peace that is ultimately what we’re all really looking for.

************************************************************************************

It took me a little over 9 miles, but I walked peace back into myself. I had a keen, almost visceral sense, while walking of that oneing.  I belong to the world, and the world belongs to me. And my fear of being alone, my fear of isolation fell away.  I could never really be alone. I am connected to Source deeply, internally, and externally I am just the same as all of my fellow travelers…we are all stardust in this struggle together.

And I remembered that I know how to hold pain, traumas, and loneliness; I do not have to allow myself to be overtaken by it, overwhelmed by it. All the great ones who have gone before me and who have been my teachers have taught me for years how to do these things…how to move through pain without letting it consume me, how to live in joy through uncertainty, how to listen and empathize with others even when I’m afraid.

As a world, we are having to sacrifice personal freedoms, make hard decisions, and do things we would never have expected to be called to do. But I am already so impressed with how people I know are stepping up, developing brilliant ideas and problem-solving in fresh, intensely creative ways…people figuring out ways to serve others even while they themselves are in isolation…people insisting that all the things that make us human are still vitally important and cannot be given up even if we are physically separated from each other.

So this is what I’m leaving today with, having been reminded once again by the trees and the birds and the Sun…be here now, in every moment…do the next right thing in each moment without worrying about all the what-if’s that you have no control over…be merciful and gracious to those who are afraid even when they make dumb choices out of that fear…and learn to listen relentlessly for the gentle whisper that can calm your soul.

 

Don’t Panic Until You See “Them” Panic

gigapixel10000

My middle son came to me last night at bedtime, concerned about all that he has been hearing about COVID-19 at school, and worried that his school district might be closed like the neighboring district. His sweet worried face wrecked me, and I couldn’t think of anything that sounded good to say, because I’m a scientist and a nurse and I know this pandemic is not just going to go away.  So I said what I could:

“Graham, do you see mama panicking?  Don’t panic until you see mama panicking.”

He seemed satisfied with that answer and went to bed, waking up happy this morning and ready to go to school.  But as I went to sleep myself last night, I lay in bed pondering at what point I might panic.

As someone who used to have prescriptions for Xanax and clonazepam with a diagnosed panic disorder, I know what terror and panic feel like. I know what it’s like to feel like you’re sliding down a vortex of despair and fear and there’s no rationalizing your way out of it. Granted, my panic attacks have always been about irrational things, but even so, fear is fear.

Ultimately, I thought about how I am a solid place for my kids…I’m supposed to be that bulwark that faces the biggest scary things in life for them so they know how it’s done.  But, who’s parenting me?  Who do I turn to when the world looks scary and I’m so tempted to join in with mass hysteria and panic?  And then it came to me…I know exactly who will show me the way.  It’s the same people that have been showing me the way for years, the same people who have taught me to trust my own inner voice and connect with Source deep within my own self instead of always in external places.

*************************************************************************************

You know that story in the gospels where Lazarus dies, and Jesus shows up after the fact?  And Mary and Martha were seriously like, what the hell, Jesus? You could have gotten here on time, you could have fixed this situation! Why are you crying now about him dying when this could have all been prevented?

I think maybe the key point here in this story is not just Lazarus’ resurrection, but the fact that Jesus didn’t panic. He didn’t come running in, blustering around, ready to cast away Lazarus’ illness and imminent death.  Nope, he took his time in coming, and he held space for things to happen, so that he could show Mary and Martha and all the village of Bethany an even greater, reality…a greater glory than what they had asked for and hoped for.

How do we hold space when a pandemic is spreading and everyone is scared and uncertain about the future, and we all are kind of convinced that life as we know it has shifted forever?

*************************************************************************************

Ram Dass died several months ago, and I have thought alot about how he would handle this strange new happening called the coronavirus.  Would he be fretting or stocking up on toilet paper or all the other things most of us are tempted to do in situations like this?  He and a friend wrote a wonderful book about death not long ago, called Walking Each Other Home, that has changed me deeply.  This book has parented me because it has shown me the things that really matter in life, and that death is nothing to fear. By learning to live well and trust life, there is no sting in death.

I recall a story I heard of something that happened with Ram Dass in 2018.  I can’t remember all the specifics, but in 2018 a false alarm was sounded in Hawaii that a missile was coming their way. Ram Dass lived in Hawaii, and so heard the sirens, along with his caretakers who lived with him. But instead of panicking that their lives were going to end, they remained calm, and they spent the time they thought they had left meditating.  They just were.  They didn’t fight what seemed to be reality.  They allowed it to just be.

Another person who has “parented” me is the Dalai Lama. I can’t even really say so much what words have come out of his mouth specifically that have changed me.  With him, it is about presence.  Back in 2014 or 2015,  the Dalai Lama came and spoke in Boston, and of course, I jumped on the train and rode into the city from where I was living so I could hear him talk.  There were thousands of us sitting in the stadium, and the environment was magic. We were all literally sitting on the edge of our seats, just wanting to hear the Dalai Lama laugh.  What he said was important, but what resonated the most was his laughter.  Because his laughter told us that all is well.  I’ve had a few people in my life, where when you sit at their feet you feel like you’re sitting with Jesus.  The Dalai Lama, even in a crowd of people, feels that way.  He laughs, and you hear divine love coming out of that laugh, and you know that everything will be OK.

I think of Eckhart Tolle and Byron Katie and Mooji and Rob Bell and Richard Rohr and Michael Singer and so many others who have parented me, who have shown me what life is about, what matters and what is simply passing.  I trust them, they’ve shown me the way; they are my great cloud of witnesses pushing me onward every day to be better, to love better, to trust the universe and its ultimate goodness.

*************************************************************************************

I was listening today to Glennon Doyle’s new book, Untamed,  – please run out to your nearest bookseller and buy this or listen to it on Audible.  It has wrecked me from the first paragraph, because it is wisdom upon wisdom upon wisdom.  About halfway through the book she talks about the Hebrew word Selah that shows up in the Old Testament Psalms. She describes it as a word that means to stop, be still, and hold space.  It often came after a line of words in Hebrew poetry, and perhaps indicated that a moment of stillness was warranted…a time to stop, and just breathe, and know the words that had just come before.

And then I also thought about my life mantra that I shamelessly stole from Richard Rohr….”Everything belongs”.  For my 40th birthday coming up I’m finally gonna get this tattooed on my arm because it is what I live by.  It is how I hold all things together that don’t seem to go together.  But today I realized that one thing about this tattoo idea I’ve had forever for my arm was missing….I can’t just leave it at “Everything belongs.”  It has to be “Everything belongs….selah.”  Trusting that all is interconnected, everything has it’s place and it’s time, there is good in all things and all people, and then…..hold….just sit and breathe the truth of that. Live the questions without striving to find all the answers, rest in uncertainty, listen for divine laughter – wherever or whoever it may come from.

*************************************************************************************

I don’t know how this pandemic will turn out.  I don’t know if it will just be an inconvenience in my own personal life, or if it will rock my world and dramatically affect how my children and loved ones and I do life. But I’m choosing to not freak out.  I’m choosing to look to the wise ones that have never yet failed me. I choose to trust the ageless words of Jesus, not to worry about tomorrow.  Just focus on now, be here now, trust in the goodness of the universe.

Maybe I’m naive, maybe I’m not grounded…that’s OK.  The ones I trust the most aren’t panicking.  So I choose not to panic. And hopefully my boys can look to their mama not panicking, and not panic, too.

I’ve Decided to Become Less Modest In Order To Protect My Boys

modesty
Photo credit: Chris JL

*Spoiler alert: I’m probably bordering on controversial in this post, and might discuss things that make some uncomfortable,.

When I was in college, I took a graduate summer class called “Anthropological Insights into the New Testament.” This class was a mind-broadener for me, because it was one of the first times I had been taught how to view the Gospels out of an entirely new lens, one that was not a literal, Western reading of the text. The parables and wise sayings of Jesus, which I had heard since I was a toddler, came alive to me in fresh ways that were much deeper with meaning than the interpretations I was so familiar with.  One of the professor’s goals was to show us how to approach these parables through different filters or sets of cultural values that were relevant to that time so that we could get a better understanding of what Jesus was actually trying to say to the disciples and crowds he was speaking to.

One filter that I remember us talking alot about was the idea of honor/shame cultures.  Much of the Middle East is grounded in this paradigm of honor/shame, and to more fully understand the motivations, beliefs, and actions of people from this region of the world, we need to understand the dynamics of honor and shame in their family life, social structures, etc. I am not an expert on the Middle East, nor on honor/shame cultures, but I can now at least understand to a small extent how Jesus was attempting to address shame in the context of the Gospels.

I’ve heard many people say that the United States is not a shame culture, and that the West, generally speaking, does not operate off of honor/shame dynamics.  I’m not entirely sure that I believe this anymore.  Yeah, maybe we don’t engage in honor killings, or go to great lengths for family members to save face, or have formal societal constructs to deal with shame and maintain honor….but I think we all carry around alot more shame than we know.  I don’t intend to prove this here, because all of Brené Brown’s writing will do it so much more adequately than what I can. Shame is pervasive and universal.

************************************************************************************

I reached adulthood carrying a ton of shame baggage. This is due to a couple of things: I’ve had some shitty things happen to me in the past, many of which I’ll just keep to myself because, thanks to shadow work and alot of therapy, speaking them out loud just isn’t so important anymore. Second, I apparently have the perfect combination of personality and temperament to soak up shame without much effort on anyone’s part. Finally, I grew up within a faith tradition, cultural setting, and a worldview belief structure that inadvertently and very unintentionally, I believe, supported shame’s ability to stick on to me.

One of the greatest struggles with shame for me personally has been with my body. This shame grew out of a whole complicated mishmash of things that people have said to me, done to me, my own ignorance, and the deeply ingrained belief I held for decades that I was broken and wrong and not OK…as though I didn’t have a legitimate right to be alive and on this earth.  This sounds very melodramatic, but I’m sorry to say it’s true. Thank God I’ve since come a very long way in letting go of all of that crap.

Suffice it to say, due to my body shame, I have been extremely modest in the way I dress and act from my childhood up. I remember in gym class all the way through high school even, I hated changing in the locker rooms because God forbid, someone would discover that something was wrong with my body and I was different from everyone else.  I had no clue what that thing might be, but I was sure whatever it was,  when it was found out, I would be shamed for it. I went to the gynecologist for the first time at age 25, because I was too terrified to go before then and just have someone tell me I was “weird’ or “different’….again, how, I had no clue.

I could never feel comfortable in my body and wanted to remain as invisible as possible. I always liked my shoulders and arms, but that was about it.  As such, I took to sleeping in my bra at a very young age, and always wore shorts when wearing a swimming suit…sometimes with a tank top as well.  The less people saw of me, the less chance they would see the shameful self that I was.

*************************************************************************************

The thing about having babies in a hospital, especially when you have to have emergency C-sections, is that your body shame protection gets ripped off pretty darn quickly.  The advantage here is that you’re so tired from hours of laboring and so grateful to finally be numbed up from your chest down and you so badly want that baby OUT!, that you suddenly don’t care who sees your nether regions.

Maybe this was God’s way of pulling off all the bandaids I’d applied to protect myself:  I had to have three C-sections, 2 of which weren’t planned and each came after 30 hours of med-free laboring.  I think by the time I actually delivered those two boys,  I’d had a minimum of twenty people seeing me in all of my glory.  Having kids did wonders for helping to melt away my tightly held modesty.  And as weird as it is to say, and maybe really silly to some, having those babies in the hospital gave me alot of healing. No one thought I was weird, no one thought my body was “off”, no one looked at me with disgust.  All of these lies I had carried so tightly inside me since I was a very little girl began to lose their grip on me.

There’s a line in the New Testament that really pisses off alot of people because of how they interpret it to depict women and their role in the world.  I totally get their anger about it; the value of women does not solely lie in their ability to grow babies and be mothers.  But, the verse means something entirely new for me now.  1 Timothy 2:15: “Yet she will be saved through childbearing…”  I really was saved in a way through giving birth….not because it validated my existence on this planet or fulfilled me in the eyes of God, but because my boys’ insistence to enter into life forced me to face one of the darkest, shame-filled beliefs I held that was really keeping me from being fully human and alive myself.

*************************************************************************************

Rape culture is still very prevalent in our society. I’ve written about this elsewhere in my blog, and don’t intend to expound too broadly on this or prove that it exists.  This culture has led to so much shaming of girls and women, and caused us to carry the brunt and responsibility for rape, sexual assault, adultery, and so many other indiscretions on the part of men. We are told, either explicitly or indirectly, that the way we dress causes men to stray and sin. We are told to be benign and almost asexual at times, and then expected to suddenly become sultry, sexy seductresses at other times.  It’s OK for men to have sex on a first date, but for women, that’s just slutty behavior. Women ask to be raped, or whistled at, or groped, or whatever – by their behavior and dress, our culture tells us.

I can’t even remember how many times growing up and as a young adult that I individually or in a group of girls was admonished, especially in church settings, to “protect” the men and boys in our lives, to keep them from stumbling.  We are supposedly the weaker sex, but apparently, we hold all the power to ruin a man’s life simply by how short our skirt is or whether or not we show a little cleavage.  Ginormous eye roll here.

Then, we as women are the ones responsible for also protecting ourselves.  If we don’t want to get raped, then when need to behave ourselves.   Don’t ever drink too much, don’t run outside by yourself after dark, be very mindful of what you wear, don’t flirt if you’re not asking for it….  There’s a reason there is such a high percentage of unreported rapes and sexual assault in this country.  Women aren’t convinced they’ll be believed when they tell their stories of what has happened to them.  And if they do report, they know they’ll likely face unbearable shaming by naysayers. Thousands of completed rape kits just sit around in storage for years gathering dust, never getting the chance to serve as evidence to bring justice for the women who needed them.

There’s a ridiculous amount of responsibility placed on women:  we have to not only protect our own sexuality, but we also have to protect the sexuality of every man we encounter, maybe even we the ones we never even know exist. This is wildly unfair, unjust, and a huge contributor to the shame we as women carry.

*************************************************************************************

As a mom of three boys, I have made a huge effort to raise them in such a way that they have immense respect for women and girls. They have known since they could talk that if I ever caught them treating a girl or woman badly, in a disrespectful or dismissive or objectifying way, that they would have to deal with me and that they were not going to want that to happen. And somehow, so far, I’ve gotten this right.  My boys LOVE girls and women; some of their best friends are girls, and they notice when girls in their classes and social circles are being treated unfairly.

I’ve taken the boys to the Women’s March in Indianapolis, we have conversations about menstrual cycles and how they should never shame girls about these. We’ve talked about how girls and women are just as smart and capable as their male counterparts. We’ve talked about the struggles that women face to achieve equality, and my boys came to me with angry indignation when they learned that women often make significantly less than men for the same jobs. I’ve begun having conversations with my 13-year-old, about consent and all the nuances of that.

But, I have been realizing over the last couple of years that there is a significant area where I’ve been failing my boys, and through extrapolation, failing myself and the girls and women that my boys will encounter in life. By not dealing with my own shame, I’ve unintentionally passed on some of that shame to my boys, and I know that if I don’t address it now, it has the potential to affect their relationships, perpetuate shame through their families, and maybe hurt their future partners if they decide they are into girls.

This is what has happened:  while I’m much less prudish and modest to the extreme like I was in my teens and early twenties, I still act in ways that either suggest I’m carrying shame or really do try to cover some lingering shame that I still hold on to. Some of these patterns are just hold-overs from my conservative ways of being when the boys were younger; my entire worldview belief structure has changed radically over the last five to ten years, but my actual behaviors have experienced some lag in trying to catch up. I’m learning that all the “great talks”  we have don’t do nearly as much as me living out what I believe to be true, even if it is difficult and uncomfortable to me.

Here are some examples; sorry if they are embarrassing to anyone reading this, but I’m more concerned about being real and authentic than in embarrassing myself or other people.

  1. I almost never go without a bra on around my boys. Since they were each toddlers, I’ve pretty much slept in one if they were around, and certainly have never gone around the house without one. This was clearly my issue not dealing with my own boob shame (there are stories behind this, but I’m going to table them right now), but I can see now that it has actually been a bad thing for the boys. I’ve recognized this when I see them being embarrassed about seeing a woman’s nipples through her T-shirt. And somehow through my extreme past modesty, they have internalized it themselves – they are often ashamed to go swim without a swimshirt on, concerned someone might see their own nipples. I somehow achieved equality between men and women here with them, but definitely not in the way that I meant to.
  2. As an adult, I hardly ever wear a swimsuit without shorts, and certainly never a two-piece.  This is mainly about my dissatisfaction about how my body looks…my tummy isn’t as tight as I’d like, thanks to three pregnancies. My belly button looks weird thanks to a laparoscopic gall bladder removal. My butt sports saddlebags that never seem to decrease no matter how much yoga or running I do. But then, I’ll hear my boys make comments regarding pictures of women they see, wearing two pieces, or showing their stomachs, and the adjectives that accompany their comments are words like “gross” or “weird”. Their statements are not coming from a place of being mean; what I hear in their voices is the sound of being uncomfortable, of unfamiliarity and unease….and realizing I contributed on accident to this hurts me deeply.
  3.  My boys are oblivious to alot of things.  It sometimes takes them days to recognize that I dyed my hair or chopped it all off.  But I have taught them to notice things that shouldn’t be an issue. In the past, I have found myself apologizing to them when they brush up against my unshaven legs. I cringe now when I think about these things because it is just teaching them to believe something completely arbitrary and inconsequential is a matter of right and wrong, good or bad, beautiful or ugly.

*************************************************************************************

I really, really want my boys to know and believe that women’s bodies are good and beautiful, with nothing shameful about them.  But I’m realizing that as the primary, most important woman currently in their lives, it is my job to live that out for them.  They are learning more from what I do or don’t do than what I say. And what I’m avoiding because of my own discomfort or shame is molding them in ways that could have lifelong impacts.

I DO NOT want to perpetuate shame from my own life into my boys’ lives, and I do not want to add new shame to their lives. I would rather do things that are hard for me than to avoid pain and end up hurting them. Which is why I’ve decided it is time for me to let go of more of my modesty. Contrary to all of the stuff I was taught growing up, I think that in many ways the way to have healthy relationships with our bodies is to normalize them, not just simply hide them away and make every single thing taboo unless you’re behind the closed doors of a marriage or committed relationship.  It’s too late by then…shame has already had a chance to catch hold.

Now for everyone reading this who is starting to hyperventilate, I’m not talking about living like I’m in a nudist colony, strutting around topless, or intentionally behaving in ways that will humiliate or mortify my kids. I’m talking about learning to be more comfortable with my own body so they know there is nothing about a woman’s body, or a man’s body for that matter, that is embarrassing or shameful or wrong.

*************************************************************************************

As a quick side tangent, since becoming a nurse I’ve decided that it would be a great idea in theory if everyone worked in a hospital for a short time.  The main reason for this is because an inpatient hospital setting helps to normalize things, especially the human body. I’ve seen so many people stark naked, I’ve seen every size and shape of penis, every size and shape of breast, every size and shape of body.  I’ve seen bodies that were missing parts, I’ve seen thin bodies, I’ve seen very large bodies.  There is more anatomical variety for nether regions than I ever once imagined.  Nothing much I see body-wise shocks or surprises me anymore. And I’ve learned this:  my body is just pretty darn average.  After all the shame carrying of my youth, I am very, very happy to just be average.

This is what I’ve concluded:  like so many other secrets, when you bring shame to the light, it begins fade away.  When you pull it out of the dark, closets, and hidden corners and show it the truth, it leaves…it has to…because there is no longer any way for it to keep lying to you when you’ve got evidence right in front of you proving otherwise.

Bodies are bodies, all different and unique. We may be drawn to some and not others because of our individual brain wiring and genetics, but when it comes down to it, everyone’s body is valid, good, and has a right to be here.

*************************************************************************************

I was irritated by the Super Bowl this year.  I actually didn’t watch it, and I only saw a few photos from the notorious half-time show.  What irritated me was the shame that I saw my boys pick up from watching it because of the comments of the people they watched it with, decrying it as inappropriate and bad.

There was alot of hullabaloo about the outfits and dancing by the half-time performers, and plenty of articles came out afterward discussing their impropriety and whether or not it was OK for celebrity moms to dress and act in certain ways, especially seductive and revealing ways.

Since when did women suddenly have to transform into asexual, tame beings when they become moms? Like it’s OK to be super cute and flirty and sexual before you have kids, but then you gotta suck on the mom jeans and act nurturing and proper all the time once the babies come.  I think the real issue with the half-time show is the labels and stereotypes we continue to put on women in this culture, and much less about what they were actually wearing, or not wearing, or how they were dancing.

I will admit that I think there are times and places for different kinds of behavior and dressing. But what I will not tolerate is grown men saying things like the half-time performance are going to cause them to sin, or that boys will be scarred for life is they see a woman in an outfit that reveals without any uncertainty that she has boobs and a butt.

*************************************************************************************

So here’s the whole point of me writing this post:  I’ve decided it’s time for me to change…to face the uncomfortable in order to protect my boys.  I want to protect them from carrying their own shame about human bodies, and I want to protect them from internalizing lies about women that would in any way propagate rape culture. I want them to be proud of their bodies, to respect and value the bodies of others, and I want them to believe that each of us has the complete and total right to do what we want with our own bodies as long as it does not infringe upon the rights of others.

I’m gonna get practical:  I’m going to suck up my embarrassment and make myself start wearing two-piece bathing suits.  Not because I have a ripped, hot body to show the world, but because I want my boys to see that I’m proud of this mom-belly that carried each of them for 9 months.,  proud of this rear end that gives me a soft place to sit every day, unashamed of cleavage and softness and the stretch marks that have multiplied with time.

And, I’m going to stop wearing this damned bra all the time so that they realize that just because I’m a mom pushing 40, I do have boobs that look like something other than nipple-less mounds stuffed in a bra under a Tshirt, and I’m never going to apologize to anyone ever again for unshaven legs – even though I do prefer to have shaven legs.  I’m also not going to heed society’s advice that women of a certain age stop wearing short skirts or other types of clothes…I’ll stop wearing them when I want to and not because I’m admonished by shame.

I didn’t create rape culture.  I didn’t create or ask for the shame that I’ve carried for years. And I’ve still got alot of work to do on myself.  But I”ll be damned if I’m going to contribute to the propagation and support of rape culture and body shame because of my own fear  My boys deserve better than that.

How To Live a Fragmented Life

fragment

*Warning: this is a processing post. I’m disclosing with this preface that I may not come to any spectacular conclusions about anything, but I’m pretty sure I’m not in this boat alone.

This last week I was finally able to put my finger on something that has been driving me crazy for quite a while. I’ve been living with an underlying current of unease or stress, and could not figure out with actual language and thoughts what was feeling so off. But this week, as I was constantly changing gears and rushing off to the next thing, it finally hit me: my life is a mish-mash of disconnection that I have to figure out every week how to fit together into some semblance of a “whole” life.

Let me try to explain. As I’ve mentioned many times, I was married for just shy of 12 years. During that time I had three kids. I worked as a lab scientist part of the time during those early years of being a mother, but gradually transitioned into being a full-time stay at home mom, a role I functioned in for the better part of nine years.

When you’re married and a stay at home mom of children, everything in life just naturally becomes about family.  And everything feels pretty integrated. Other than the occasional girls’ night out or solo run to Barnes and Noble to try and regain some weeknight sanity through solitude and books, most everything I did revolved around my husband and my kids.  Even if they weren’t directly involved in what I was doing, there was still the coordinating of care for them, making sure that we touched based numerous times each day, and we came back together in the same house each night for bed….except for when business trips interfered and I was solo mom-ming it.

Even if life wasn’t necessarily “happy”, there was flow.  There was a pattern to things that I could generally count on. Where I went, the kids went.  Where the kids went, I went. All the different spheres of my existence somehow included my husband and my kids, and I felt like I understood my role as a person in those years because it was rather continuous and fairly predictable.

Those roles and that continuity have changed so very dramatically over the last several years.  It probably started five or so years ago as I began to gradually unhinge myself from my marriage, and my ex and I became roommates who shared kids, more than functioning partners in a relationship. But my responsibilities, and my kids, and my friends, and the things I did every day were constants that made me feel grounded in some sense.

It occurred to me the other day that my life is nothing short of fragmented. This epiphany helped to suddenly shine some light on this background stress frequency that permeates my life.  There is little continuity in my life these days, and that is something I keep striving for. This flying by the seat of my pants from one thing to another, day after day, feels so hard, and I’m constantly wondering which ball I’m going to drop, or which particular role I’m going to be shitty at on any given day.

Yesterday someone told me they think I’m very settled.  I inwardly rolled my eyes.  Stuck maybe, but not settled.  They later said I’m a very steady person.  That made me inwardly laugh really hard because I usually feel about as steady as a fainting goat at any given moment. My life is chaos all the time. And I’m realizing, especially through my “aha” moment, how much of it I do to myself.  The big question is: why?

*************************************************************************************

I have determined that I have at least five realms of existence in my life, and much of these realms don’t overlap. It’s a really bad Venn diagram of a life where the circles don’t touch, which makes going from one thing to the other a matter of alot of hard stops and abrupt changes of direction.  Here are some of the realms I’m alluding to:

  1. I have my kids only so many days each week, and every other weekend.  When they are with me, my focus is parenting, trying to hit off items on their to do lists, reconnect with them when I haven’t seen them for a while, and actually cook at least two decent meals a day. But, because of the weird dynamics I have with their father, it’s like when they’re not with me, I suddenly lose them and there are these big “kid-holes’ in my life…very abrupt snatching away of that realm of parenting. Thank God now they have phones and we can stay kind of connected through texting.  I hate this, though.  I feel like a mom half of my life, and the other half…I don’t know what I am.
  2. I’m in online graduate school doing a program that is relatively new to the discipline of nursing, so nobody else I personally know in life is pursuing or has pursued this degree.  I interact with my professors and classmates via email, text, and Zoom; they are a chunk of life I interact with a few times a week over the web. Nothing about this portion of my life interacts much with any other portion, so again, it feels very disconnected and abrupt when I enter and exit this realm.
  3. I go to work about 3 times a week at the hospital as a nurse. I love my job, where I work, and all the people I work with.  But this is another separate chunk of life.  Nothing about my job or the people that I know there spill over into my personal life…other than that my work friends post some freaking amazing FB content that gives me alot of joy.
  4. Most of my friends are spread out all over Indianapolis and surrounding areas. So I go to one town to see one friend, then another town to see another friend.  Up to 86th street to see that person, and down to Bloomington to see that person.  Straight into Broad Ripple to see that one person, and off to Chicago to see that one other person.  If I’m really lucky I’ll occasionally be able to get two of my friends in the same place at one time, and that’s just because I’ve been very rigorous about trying to introduce all of my friends to each other because 1) I know they’ll hit it off, and 2) I need a little more connection between the people in my life, and 3) I think I know half of the divorced women in Indiana and I recognize that we all need each other.
  5. I’m not really hitting up church on Sundays much these days, but for the last several years I had another chunk of life through a congregation I attended and was a part of. I valued it greatly, but it was just another disconnected aspect of my life; it was another hard stop and direction change to go to church and then head back to a different Venn circle in my life. It’s strange to pursue Mennonite values so hard when only a small piece of my life pays attention to those values in any real way.
  6. And then finally, at least I think, my actual extended family is a chunk in my life. But they are spread across Texas and Missouri and I probably feel most disconnected from them and un-integrated with the rest of my life. It’s hard to stay integrated with and know/be known by people you see twice a year.

*************************************************************************************

So, this is what I realized:  my life has become, not a continuous daily journey with the same people doing much the same things, but a constant jumping from one thing to another.  Something that has hurt me in this, I’m realizing, is that I don’t have very good processes in place to help me transition from one Venn circle to the other, and so I’m constantly feeling disoriented, and very…unsettled.

I don’t think this problem is unique to me.  I have several divorced female friends whose lives have been upended and are trying to piece together a meaningful and joyful existence as I am, while earning a living, parenting, and pursuing the things we are passionate about.  I also think some of these friends are also rocking it so much better than I am.

I pontificate all the time that I’m so glad I’m not tied down in a marriage like I was before, but this is one thing that I’m recognizing:  I do miss some of the certainty, security, and stability that comes with having a family dynamic that is predictable and steady. It’s hard having completely different routines every single day because of the nature of my life and roles; it’s really hard going to sleep one night with a kiddo snuggled up next to me knowing that my other two are dreaming on the other side of the house, and then the next night, I”m sleeping cold and alone in an empty house…hoping maybe at least the cat will come and snuggle with me.

It’s hard trying to talk to people about things in my life when all of those people aren’t involved in other areas of my life and have little clue what I’m talking about and so struggle to relate. The last three years have really been the very first time in my life when the bulk of the people in my life didn’t fit into more than one of my Venn circles.

*************************************************************************************

I’ve started exercising like crazy again.  I was running, swimming, and cycling alot a couple of years ago, but pretty much dropped them when I started my first nursing job and did nothing but cry and think I was going to die for a solid six months. But, now, I no longer consistently cry and I’ve realized that I can, in fact, work out on days that I work, and it has become a real lifesaver.  I think I’ve figured out why: these long periods of running, or swimming (not biking yet because I haven’t worn a good enough callous on my hiney yet for long rides) are a way to help me transition during all of these hard stops and role changes in my life. It feels kind of like EMDR…that psychotherapy modality where trauma victims are helped to process traumatic memories through bilateral eye movements or bilateral body stimulation. The exercise becomes a meditative experience that helps me physically work out the stress and makes me feel like I can move on to the next thing in a more whole-bodied way.  That may sound really stupid, but I think its legit.  And probably why then, exercise has become so addictive over the last six to eight months….sometimes I feel like its the only thing that is actually keeping me grounded.

*************************************************************************************

So, what I’m trying to figure out now is how to live an integrated, whole life when you struggle with dissociative lifestyle disorder.  When the people, things that I’m involved in, and things that are important to me are so widely varied and unrelated to each other….how do I hold this all together?  Is it even worth it to try and hold all of these things together in one existence?  My great fear in life is that in the attempt to manage all of these things and people that I hold dear, I’m inevitably going to drop the ball and fail someone miserably. Or, in my whole-hearted attempts to do everything well, the end results will simply be alot of half-assed outcomes.  How do you really know what to keep and what to let go of?   I really hate it when people tell me to make lists and prioritize. My brain does not work that way. Everything, everyone….is important to me.

*************************************************************************************

I always feel a little self-conscious about the fact that I have some crazy and out of control ADHD.  This contributes alot to the fact that my life fragments so much – I get interested in everything and everyone and so constantly fly off in different directions and say yes to too much and try to do everything right NOW. In my crazy running around I make to-do lists and then forget I made them, I start projects that I hope I’ll eventually finish, and every day becomes a process of making up things as I go along.

My nursing career coach told me the other day that his own therapist’s opinion is that people with ADHD might actually be primed to be the most healthy people in today’s nutty world with too much information and stressors and activity because we can flit superficially over things and not get too bogged down.  I’m not sure I’m convinced, but I trust his opinion, so I’m tentatively going with it.

Maybe I’m looking at it all wrong. Yes, my life is fragmented, and definitely messy, but maybe it’s just because my life is big and I’m blessed to have good people and good things happening in every direction I turn. There are some adventure and thrill to the unpredictability of my life, and I am certainly never bored.  I’m finally getting to do things I’ve always wanted to do that I never thought were possible or would actually happen.

And yes, I may be a hot mess express the majority of the time, but I’m definitely not sitting back and letting life pass me by.  I’m not letting my fears control what I do or get involved in. I’m trying really hard every day to grow as a person and become better, and be more authentic than I was the day before.

But, it gets exhausting, feeling like on almost a daily basis I’m teleporting from one alternate universe to another.  It’s frustrating sometimes to be the only common denominator between a bunch of Venn circles, knowing that I’m doing all the transitions by myself, knowing that it’s up to me to hold my world and life together.

So, look, as I promised, no fantastic, helpful conclusions! But if anyone out there knows what it’s like to live a fragmented life and has somehow remained or achieved integration, please….please….share your wisdom.

The Other Shoe Will Inevitably Drop, And It’s Ok.

 

seaI had a rough day this week.  It came out of nowhere, really.  I woke up and knew within a few minutes that an old familiar cloud was hanging over me…Churchhill’s black dog that used to hound me on a regular basis had come for an unexpected visit.

I hardly ever get depressed anymore.  It’s such a sweet relief after years and years of a cycling battle against despair and anxiety. When days come like the one I had a few days ago, I am made so much more grateful for the hope that has learned to float in me.

The thing about these days when I do get depressed is that it’s usually not rational; I can sit there and tell myself all day long that I’m not being rational, and that all is well, but it’s not always possible to talk myself out of places with logic and words.  I’m so very thankful for the people I have in my life that hang with me on the dark days that I do have, and remind me of truth and peace that seem a bit fuzzy and evasive to grasp at the time.

On this particular morning, I woke up missing my mom dreadfully. She and I had a complicated relationship, and we could bicker and pick at each other like nobody’s business, but she was my mom.  She was a constant that I had known for 33 years, a soft place of comfort, someone who always came back even after we had another stupid fight, someone who would shoot the bull with me on the phone and never fail to answer when I just wanted to chat or have a shopping partner.

Next came a wave missing of other people in my life that are now dead and gone.  The dreadful part about loving people deeply is that eventually they will die on you and then you have to spend the rest of your life with a terrible missing-them-ache in your heart.  I’ve been fortunate in this life to have loved deeply and been loved deeply by wonderful people, and many of them left me long ago….left me with many years to remember and miss them.

And finally, my dark day brought fear…not a sharp terror, but a dull blanketing ache of apprehension that everything was going to fall apart and I would be helpless to avert it. As I’ve written about before, the last three and a half years have been about me stepping out of all of my safety nets, trying to do brave things, trying to make up things as I go along while not really knowing what I’m doing, trying to walk on water.  On this day I remembered that I am only one person with alot of limitations, alot of things that I don’t know I don’t know, living in an uncertain world….and fear of losing everything rose up and threatened to choke me as I externally tried to look chill and calm while internally panicking, struggling to push the fear back down.

*************************************************************************************

Looking back with a little perspective, I was probably hormonal that day.  But hormonal or not, fear is fear and trying to rationalize your fear away with a “hormonal” label never works, and will usually piss off every woman when you tell her this even if she knows it to be true. But I made it through the day, got some sleep, and the next morning the cloud had lifted and the fear had abated, and in its place I found joy and peace and quick laughter again.  Thank God for the recalibration and recentering that can happen with a good night’s sleep.

I’ve been reflecting on how I felt that day, processing it, wondering where it came from, and considering how I can avoid days like that in the future. Days where you’re holding your breath, afraid that the other shoe is about to drop.

Then it occurred to me….something that feels like truth to me that I’ve never consciously thought out before:  the other shoe is inevitably going to drop, but it’s going to be OK.

Most of us spend so much time trying to build security around ourselves, whether it be material goods, wealth, or people that will stand with us for the long haul.  And then we spend so much time and effort worrying about how to keep them.  Our lives become about building and building, amassing and amassing….it’s not even necessarily about gaining luxury and comfort, but just trying to construct life bubbles that make us feel safe and not alone.  We in the Western world are extra great at trying to build these big, safe, static lives where we get to a place of security and then try to brick off its boundaries so it will always be there.

But this is such an illusion, such a cause of extra suffering for us when we try to blockade ourselves off from what “could” happen, when we try desperately to avoid losing what we value, when we dread the potential end of all those things our identities become wrapped up in.

Who will we be when we lose that job or career?  How will we survive if that particular person dies or leaves us? What if our external world crumbles and we have nothing extra special to differentiate ourselves from everyone around us? What then?  What will become of us? Will we simply slide off into an abysmal forgottenness?

I honestly think that one of humankind’s greatest fears is that of nihilism or irrelevance. We are afraid of losing ourselves and becoming unseen, and we unconsciously fear this happening when we lose the external selves that we have worked so hard to create over our lifetimes.

*************************************************************************************

Buddhism teaches us that all things are impermanent and passing. In fact, so many of the things we believe to be solid and stationary are really just illusions. Everything exists in relationship to each other; quantum physics shows us this, with atomic particles all moving in space and time around each other. Isn’t it remarkable that the specific combination and proximity of the right kinds of atoms and molecules with these relational particles can somehow create a chair that will hold us up?

I think one of our greatest shortcomings is to strive endlessly for perfection…perfection as in a static state where nothing goes wrong and there’s no pain and nothing will ever jump out and surprise us. I grew up believing this is what heaven is supposed to be like, and I remember thinking that it sounded as boring as hell and I might as well just exist as a fork if that’s what I had to look forward to.

As much as we hate to admit it, joy and peace and thankfulness are functions of a greater whole, a bigger picture….where the dark and loss and constant change are necessary. Otherwise, “being” would be flat and shapeless, and probably not worth having.

I think a better way to define perfection is not the goal of reaching a blissful, unchanging realm of existence…but rather, a state of “wholebeing-ness”, where we are always fully where we are, knowing that each moment will pass and change into something new and different, and that fundamentally we are still there, still loved by whatever it was that created and is still creating us, and that we will be well.

*************************************************************************************

If you stop and think about it, the shoe is eventually going to drop at some point….we just don’t always know when that point is.

Find the love of your life….you’re going to lose them at some point.  They may walk out on you tomorrow, they may die of cancer in five years, they may outlive you and die of a ripe old age.  But, you’re going to “lose” them at some point. Or, they will lose you first.

Build the perfect career and gain a stellar reputation in your field.  Write books, publish papers, dazzle audiences with your charisma.  It will all eventually fade away and at some point, you will be laid off, or some other bright and smart youngster will come up with greater ideas and your accomplishments will no longer seem so glorious, or you will reach the age where retirement looms and you are too tired to trudge into work each day. You will eventually “lose” your vocation and career.

Build a big house; it may burn or be hit by a tornado or be foreclosed on. Or your toddlers will render it an unlivable shambles.

Have children and raise them the best you know how: they may move states away or refuse to speak to you or become so absorbed in their lives that they forget to call.

Save all your money for travel after you retire and then receive the dreadful diagnosis that suddenly drains that travel bank account dry before you’ve stepped foot on the tarmac to fly off to an exotic location.

Have amazing beauty, or athleticism, or sex appeal and charm:  we’re all going to get old or ugly at some point, and no measure of lotions, creams, or exercise will save us from all that telomere shortening and DNA fraying and cells deciding they’re too tired to keep replicating.

The shoe IS going to drop at some point, and the things we don’t want to happen are going to happen. I just can’t see any other way around it.  Where we run into certain trouble is when we try to convince ourselves that we can avoid the shoe-drop, or that we can control it and postpone it to our liking. We can’t…and attempting to do so just causes us fear, and stress, and suffering.

*************************************************************************************

It feels increasingly clear to me, as illuminated by my black dog day this week, that most things are pretty much out of our control.  This could seem scary, but I think if we reframe it, it might seem better.

We don’t have much control over the hard things that come into our lives, but when you think about it, we don’t really control the good things that come into our lives, either….yet those good things still come.  We are also so quick to label everything and every event that comes our way:  this is good, that is bad, I like this, I hate that.  We look at individual data points instead of overall trends. This shortsightedness and rush to draw conclusions doesn’t serve us so well.

I can look back on so many times in my life where something didn’t go the way I wanted, and I thought it would be better to just lay down and die because life had passed me over.  And then, down the road a ways, I would look back and thank the sweet Jesus that I hadn’t gotten what I wanted in that moment…or I could see so clearly how that terrible moment had brought me to something so much better now, or had grown me into a bigger and better person.  Sometimes….sometimes….what we need most is for that shoe to drop.  Sometimes the shoe drop is the vehicle that can carry us forward into the joy and peace and new life that we didn’t once think possible.

*************************************************************************************

There’s a great parable that makes the point that we should be careful to label what happens in our lives as blessings or curses.  My experience has shown me that this tale is true.  The version I found was from Max Lucado, but I’m pretty sure I’ve heard similar stories from Buddhist writers, too. Here it is:

The Old Man and The White Horse

There’s an old parable about an old man and his white horse. In this parable, the old man has a beautiful white horse. He could sell it and amass a large fortune.

The old man chooses to keep it in a stable and never sells the horse, His neighbors think he is crazy, telling him that there will come a day the horse is stolen and the man will have nothing.

That day came. Waking up one morning, the horse was not in its stable and was nowhere to be found.

The man’s neighbors were right all along and they rushed to tell the man he was now cursed because he had lost everything.

The man’s response is profound: “Don’t speak too quickly. Say only that the horse is not in the stable. That is all we know; the rest is judgment. If I’ve been cursed or not, how can you know? How can you judge?”

The people were offended by what the man said. “How can you say this?” they asked, “it is clear that you are cursed no matter what your perspective might be.”

The old man spoke again. “All I know is that the stable is empty, and the horse is gone. The rest I don’t know. Whether it be a curse or a blessing, I can’t say. All we can see is a fragment. Who can say what will come next?”

What a fool the neighbors thought.


After several days the horse returned, he’d not been stolen, but ran away. On his return, he brought with him a dozen wild horses.

Now the neighbors had to come out to tell the man that he was right all along and in fact, he’s a blessed man because now he has a whole herd of horses.

The man responds again: “Once again, you go too far. Say only that the horse is back. State only that a dozen horses returned with him, but don’t judge. How do you know if this is a blessing or not? You see only a fragment. Unless you know the whole story, how can you judge? You read only one page of a book. Can you judge the whole book? You read only one word of one phrase. Can you understand the entire phrase?”

The man’s neighbors found it hard to argue with this. “Maybe he’s right,” they said. But deep down they knew the old man was wrong. He had one horse now he has thirteen — how could he say he isn’t blessed?


The old man had a son — his only child. The son went to breaking these wild horses when one of them flung him off, landing he broke both of his legs.

The neighbors were awestruck at the man’s wisdom. “He was right we were wrong,” they thought. The old man, being too old to do much on the farm, no longer had his son available to work the land. With no one tending the farm, he would likely lose his income.

Not long after this, a war broke out in the old man’s country. All young men were called up to serve in the army where most would perish, leaving many fathers without their sons.

This was true for the old man’s neighbors who had sons that were to never return home. They went to the old man weeping, “you were right, we were wrong.”

“Your son’s accident is a blessing and while his legs are broken you will have many more years with him,” they said, “We will not, our sons are gone. You are blessed, we are cursed.”

The old man responded once again: “It is impossible to talk with you. You always draw conclusions. No one knows. Say only this. Your sons had to go to war, and mine did not. No one knows if it is a blessing or a curse. No one is wise enough to know. Only God knows.”

*************************************************************************************

I think the whole point of the parable above is that the best way to live life is to take what comes to us, accept it, and stop our incessant labeling of every, single thing that happens.  This certainly doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t grieve the hard things we face (and I have more thoughts on this in a future post), but we cause ourselves more hurt when we insist that we know how life is supposed to be all the time.  We DON’T know.  Our lives are so infinitesimally short; we are a blip on the cosmic timeline, and REALLY, what do we know and truly understand about all the great and unimaginable things going on all around us in our galaxy and beyond.

Finally, I think we have to learn to go inward as well as very far outward to know that we are OK when our shoes drop. If we only look at our lives with what our five senses can perceive, it can seem terrifying and difficult, cruel and often pointless. It can feel like nothing and nobody is in control, and the whole world is just a goddamned mess.

This is where we must learn from the mystics, those who have different eyes to see. The mystics are the ones who have survived the shoe drops and can tell us what lies on the other side. When my soul is in distress, I turn to Rumi again and again for comfort, to remember how to see things in a new way when my physical eyes are burdened with all the pain, unfairness, inequity, and grief that people are experiencing around me.  I love these words….these are soul words:

“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase “each other”
doesn’t make any sense.
The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.
Don’t go back to sleep.
You must ask for what you really want.
Don’t go back to sleep.
People are going back and forth across the doorsill
where the two worlds touch.
The door is round and open.
Don’t go back to sleep.”

Let the shoe drops come; don’t fear them, don’t fight them, because we don’t know what lies on the other side; we can’t say if we will encounter a blessing or a curse. What we have is now, and now, and now.  I, for one, want to enjoy the hell out of each of my now’s, catching and releasing, and resting in that field where we don’t have to label every single thing and we don’t even have to understand every single thing.  We are just free to be, and be loved, by this life that keeps bringing itself to us, day after day.

The Challenge of Committing to Others and Making Promises to Yourself

commitment

The other day I was listening to a recent episode of On Being, where Krista Tippett was interviewing the folk singer Joe Henry.  They were discussing how important his marriage was to him, how he saw being married to his wife as natural to who he was…it is part of his identity as a person and foundational to his human-ness.

The podcast episode, in general, was fantastic, but it caused me to stop and think for a while about the idea of commitment to others…both in romantic partnerships as well as committing to do life with specific people.  I actually sat down immediately and emotional verbiage vomited out an entire blog post, which I promptly lost because it didn’t autosave and I forgot to hit the update button. Honestly, that was probably the universe’s way of telling me that all ya’ll didn’t need to read that messy, unedited Julie-overload. This redo post is still me heavily processing ideas, and could still be a bit on the mental barf spectrum.

For whatever reason, this episode made me suddenly stop and decide to rethink marriage.  The truth is, I have been very grumpy about the institution of marriage for a very long time.  It took me years to be brave and leave my own marriage, so when people ask me about getting married again sometime in the future it’s almost all I can do to either not smirk or respond with a “Why the hell would I do THAT?!”

Of course, I’m always impressed when I meet couples who have braved the odds or have been married for decades.  I’m usually never against other people getting married. But, it left a really bad taste in my own mouth.  I’ve said so often in the last few years that I never again want to be legally tied to someone, that I never want my finances to be intermingled with another person’s, that I never want to be dependent on a man again. And until this last week, I thought all of my spouting off came from a place of self-awareness.  I have since been questioning this and thinking that maybe my “self-aware” attitude was really just my undealt-with fear attempting to appear enlightened.

*************************************************************************************

I definitely grew up with some deep-seated notions of what marriage was supposed to be about. (What I’m about to say is what I believed mixed with a healthy dose of sarcasm and generalization, just so you’re warned). What I internalized was that women, thanks to being created second and thanks to Eve’s colossal screwup in the garden, relegated us to second-class citizenship in the eyes of God. We were to submit ourselves to our husbands and help them succeed, being all that God had intended for them.  Seriously, I can’t believe I ever believed any of this, and these days the words “helpmeet” or “helpmate” make me throw up a little in my mouth. I used to believe that the man was supposed to be the spiritual leader of the house, and make the final decisions, and a whole lot of other ridiculousness….like how wives should be available for sex pretty much any time the husband wanted.  I’m eye-rolling so hard right now.

My rebellion against marriage is not just a pushing back against my own less-than-great 11-year experience, but a HARD push back against the belief system that I grew up with. I have associated marriage with a really icky feeling – suffocation mixed with feeling less than and the perception of not being able to make it through life as a complete and thriving person without a man to steer the ship.

*************************************************************************************

Byron Katie is one of my favorite spiritual teachers because she teaches me to question everything, and not assume that what I perceive as reality is always true. She is an amazing person who has this uncanny ability to not attach to outcomes, and as a result, she is free from suffering when things don’t turn out the way she would have expected or hoped for.

Katie is married to Stephen Mitchell, a well-known writer and translator of sacred Eastern spiritual texts. She has told a story several times about how her relationship with Stephen works.  Basically, when they got married, they did not promise to love each other until one of them died.  Instead, she promised to love Stephen until she didn’t love him. And he vowed the same to her.

I have always found this amazing because it implies that both parties have absolute freedom to stay or leave; they are not in the relationship out of manipulation or obligation, but simply because they love the other person and want to stay.  Why would anyone want a traditional marriage when they could have this kind of understanding….the kind that says “I love you and want you to stay, but if you want to leave I love you enough that I will help you pack your bags.”

It’s a shocking, scandalous kind of love, isn’t it? I want to be able to love others that way.

*************************************************************************************

As I was pondering this question of whether or not the idea of marriage could ever not be an icky topic for me, I began to think of the other people I have committed to in my life, and why I’ve committed to them.  Some of my best friends live states away from me.  A few friends and I have chased each other all over the country in the last couple of decades, but we stick out our friendship even when it’s hard.  We make a point to keep talking, to keep connecting, and to travel to see each other because we value this thing we hold between us.

But why? Why do I do this with some people, but not want to do it with others?

As I was thinking about this last week, a friend had a movie going on in the background, that caught my attention with a line one character asked another.  Granted, I later found out the movie was Midsommar, a dark and creepy movie whose ending totally weirded me out.  But the line stuck with me.

“Does he feel like home to you?”

And, yes!  This is why I stick with certain people, even when the logistics don’t make sense, even when there are ridiculous hurdles to keep crossing to maintain a relationship, even when we might go weeks without connecting.  I commit to these friends because they feel like home to me. They are the ones who make me feel like I am safe in the world and belong, even if they aren’t physically next to me.

I’m a very “feely’ person.  Being an XNFJ on the Myers-Briggs, I do so much of my life based on how it feels.  I buy houses based on feel, I choose towns to live in based on feel, I make impulsive decisions based on feel,  I, unfortunately, eat too much comfort food based on how it makes me feel, …. and…I choose people to commit to and do life with based on how they make me feel.

I didn’t always do this.  For much of my life, I based my relationship commitments on obligation, duty, and, a little selfishly, on those I thought might help make things a little easier, bring me more respect, or ensure me more security.  I’m glad I’ve learned to change that because now my relationships seem much more authentic. Nowadays, I want to be in relationship with people who feel like “home” to me, and where I, reciprocally, feel like “home” to them.

*************************************************************************************

I’ve known people who have intentionally committed to “do life” with other people beyond the scope of marriage or family.  This has varied in how it looked; some have lived next to each other on the same property with a communal money pot and shared business endeavors.  Others simply promised each other that they would intentionally stay living within certain geographical boundaries so that they could regularly meet with each other, encourage each other in goals, and hold each other accountable to whatever principles and values were important to them.

This kind of commitment seems really cool to me, but it takes some serious sacrifice. It’s about people choosing to accept the personalities and quirks of others in close proximity physically and/or emotionally, in the pursuit of some common goal.  It also accepts the fact that there may be struggle involved, and maybe the whole relationship structure will fail at some point. What makes people do things like this? And,  what are they getting out of it?  Is living in intentional, committed community with people a good thing all the time?  Is it always better than being able to freely move about without expectations from others? These are questions I think about alot.

*************************************************************************************

I should point out that I recognize that the Western world has a unique understanding of marriage, and that it has not always been about falling in love.  I get that in history marriage was frequently a way to create allies, and forge bonds between families and people groups to help secure peace. I also know that in so many places arranged marriages were the deal for years, where matchmakers or parents picked who someone was going to marry.

I have adopted parents (C and L) in West Africa who had an arranged marriage.  They have been married for decades and I’ve always marveled at how well partnered and suited for each other they seem to be.  I asked C once what he thought about his marriage.  He told me that when he was young, L had been pointed out to him as a potential mate, and after taking a good look at her, he was good with the deal. (He had a big grin on his face when he told me this). Though the marriage was arranged, they forged a friendship and bond that worked very well, raising great kids, and they have always seemed really happy and content with each other.

The idea of an arranged marriage feels freaking scary to me; I think you REALLY have to trust your parents in that area when the partner picking is happening. And I can see, in situations like that, you need a solid, formal commitment by both parties to be the glue that will hold the relationship together. There has to be some real sense of obligation, I think, to make an arranged marriage successful.

But, we don’t have that kind of society anymore. So, do we really need the formal commitments and legal boundaries of traditional marriage?  Getting into formal marriage is some ways, in my opinion, WAY too easy, when it is so freaking hard, stressful, and expensive to get out of those marriages.  I kind of think that if the State is going to be involved, then they need to make it harder for people to get married on the front end so maybe we’ll all stop and think a little harder before signing on the dotted line.

*************************************************************************************

I discussed this topic with a friend of mine after I completely lost the blog post that I had furiously typed out and then lost in a matter of seconds.  This person made a couple of good points.  When I said that I wasn’t sure I liked the idea of being tied so tightly to someone I was romantically involved with, and didn’t want the mess and stress of limiting myself legally and financially, they reframed it for me, saying “If you’re intentionally leaving yourself all of these strategic exits and backdoor escape routes in a relationship, then how committed are you really to the relationship in the first place?  And is that even really a legitimate, authentic relationship?”

That one stung a bit, to be honest.  If I want to be loosely tied enough to a person that I can escape when I start getting uncomfortable, is that really much of a relationship worth being in?

This person then made a second point that I think is noteworthy.  Why is it that we think the marriage ceremony is where, BAM!, all the commitment happens?  Isn’t it better to progress slowly in relationship with someone to the point to where we one day wake up and realize that we that we have worked ourselves into solid commitment with each other, and THEN have the marriage ceremony simply to acknowledge that recognized commitment?  It’s a subtle, but I think, important, difference in the way to view marriage.

*************************************************************************************

This week I had an epiphany while I was driving to work.  I was thinking about my own marriage ceremony and the vows that my ex-husband and I made to each other all those years ago.  Vows that didn’t keep.

It occurred to me that during that ceremony, I was making vows to another person, but I wasn’t making vows to MYSELF.  I was repeating the words that are expected in traditional marriage ceremonies, words that I thought were the magic and glue to make commitment suddenly appear and stick.  And then, I realized that making vows to other people will never work…not forever at least….because in making vows only to the other person, you’re forgetting an integral piece of the relationship….YOU.

If we can’t make promises to ourselves….if we can’t commit to ourselves….then how the heck do we think we can commit to some other person for who knows how many years? But don’t we do this all the time in marriage ceremonies?!  We promise to love our future spouse until we die, when we don’t really even know how to love ourselves.  We promise to stick with them through good times and bad, when we so frequently, we fail ourselves, judge ourselves, limit ourselves.  We promise to cherish each other, when so often, we can hardly stand ourselves, much less cherish ourselves.

*************************************************************************************

I think there are two main reasons I squirm around the idea of marriage these days.  The first is because for so long marriage was wrapped up in how God viewed me, and my identity, worth, and status were bound up in this institution. Marriage was very much a place of feeling trapped and controlled for me; it never felt like a place where certain freedoms were set aside for the sake of pursuing something greater. I felt worse about myself when I was married than when I wasn’t.  (I should point out this is not an ex-husband bashing post…I’m alluding to the unfortunate dynamics that were present in my marriage, not throwing all the blame on the other person).  But I really think now that part of the reason the whole thing was a failure was that I had never made vows to myself – I had never promised to treasure myself, I had never promised to hang tight with myself through whatever life brought me. Instead, I believed that I had to give someone else all the things that I had never yet learned to give myself.

The other reason I squirm about marriage is that I’m not sure we are always, absolutely meant to meet someone and stay with them FOREVER.  I think it’s fantastic when this happens, but….what do you do when you and the person you are married to completely outgrow each other?  When you suddenly have NOTHING in common, when even your value systems are polar opposite? The stigma of divorce here is so damaging to people who are just trying to be their authentic selves, and we shame them for being true to themselves and pursuing the things that are life-giving to them.  I think it’s a really bad idea to try and put one-size fits all templates of marriage on everyone and assume that we all know what is going on behind closed doors, and I really, really think its a horrible idea to bring God into the equation and start telling people that God wants their marriage to look like this or that.  I can personally attest to trauma received by people doing that to me in some terribly hurtful ways.

*************************************************************************************

So, what am I trying to say in all of the rambling of this post?

First, my ego has been knocked down a tad bit because I realized that my repugnance towards marriage again was not enlightenment and amazing self-awareness, but rather, me pretending that I don’t still have hurts and fears to process and work through.

Second, I don’t want to be the person that avoids real, loyal love because I need to keep backdoors open when I start feeling the heat and getting uncomfortable. Isn’t doing so exactly what I blog all the time about trying to avoid?  Don’t avoid pain and suffering, I always write!  Embrace the hard things!  This is where the growth and the real stuff of life is!  I’m spoonfeeding my own words back to myself right now.

Third, maybe marriage for me just needs to be completely reframed.  It definitely can have some legal and financial perks to it, to be sure.  But instead of viewing it as a static moment in time where people suddenly commit to each other, maybe it should be viewed as the culmination of commitment that been building over a long time….maybe it should be more of a celebration of that commitment rather than the sudden shaky start of commitment that hasn’t gotten it’s sea legs yet.

And fourth, what would it look like if we became more serious about making vows to ourselves WAY before we made these crazy, impossible-to-promise vows to another person?  What if marriage could be a fluid state where we were entirely committed for that period in time, but then we’re free and blessed to leave if our vows to the other person started causing us to break our vows to ourselves?  I know I don’t want to be with anyone who feels like they have to be with me out of obligation. I want someone to be with me because they feel like they can be their best self when they’re with me. And, I want to want to love people so much that they know they can come and go and they will always still be loved.  This is super hard to do in practice, but a worthy goal, I think.

*************************************************************************************

When I began questioning all the theological beliefs I grew up with, I had to undergo a deconstruction.  For a couple of years I was MAD at Christianity, MAD at the Church, and MAD at myself for believing things that helped keep trauma firmly embedded within myself and kept me pinned down in a trapped, small life. But over time, the anger faded, I was able to reframe my perspectives about my life and past, and I reconstructed a faith that is still deeply rooted in Christianity, that feels authentic and real to me.

As I’ve written this post, I’m thinking that the same is going to have to happen for me regarding the idea of marriage and long term commitments to anyone.  Maybe I needed to be really angry for a while, separate myself completely from the idea of committing hardcore to someone, and allow myself time to reframe my understanding of relationships, while gradually reconstructing a new paradigm for how I want future relationships to look.

Marriage doesn’t have to be BAD or a means of trapping myself or another person into staying. Committing to other people doesn’t mean that I have to lose myself or suddenly become subservient in different aspects of my life.

I’ve said this before in posts regarding spirituality…..as Ken Wilbur and others have talked about, I want to “transcend and include.”  I don’t want to throw out things in my life completely just because they were hard or didn’t well. I want to be able to take the good things with me, and use them to construct new ways of thinking and being. I think maybe I’m making small steps in that direction now as I’m finally willing to take another look at long term commitment and relationship with others.

 

 

How To Cut Yourself Off From Joy

joy
Photo credit: Melinda Shelton

As I have grown older, I am recognizing more and more that there is a huge difference between happiness and joy. I’ve heard about this difference since I was little, ’cause joy is discussed alot in churchy environments. However, I never really could make a distinction between the two in a real way until the last five or so years.

But now, I KNOW what joy is, and I totally get what Jesus meant when he talked about the peace that passes all understanding. Happiness is about the things that you enjoy in life, the things that bring you pleasure, the pleasant feeling of satisfaction with whatever is currently coming your way. The Office makes me happy.  Key lime pie makes me happy. Stupid Facebook memes make me REALLY happy.  Joy, on the other hand, is the deep soul resolve to keep waking up every morning with hope, determined to let life dance you moment after moment even in the midst of shitstorms. Joy is the grit, the resilient knowing, that, as Thomas Merton said, “Everything that is, is holy.”  Joy is the choice to love what is, even when that “what is” is paradoxical, painful, and hard because you know that there is a redemptive power coursing through life that is vibrating grace into all things….even the terrible and impossible things.

I’ve been thinking alot about my own joy lately, especially because of conversations that I’ve been having with people about the hard things in their lives, the things that God dammit! refuse to be resolved, the pain that won’t go away, the lingering resentments and fears and loss of big dreams. There is clearly so much in the world that threatens to rob us of joy. It takes daily vigilance and intention to hold onto it, to pursue it with abandon.

I remember when I first moved back to Indiana in the process of getting a divorce. My ex and I had split custody of the boys from the start, and twice a week I would send them to him on his designated days. Up until that time I had hardly spent many nights away from my kids other than to attend an occasional conference or travel to visit family. Now, I was regularly sending them away from me, for up to four nights at a time.  The pain of having to put my kids in his car, often when they were crying and begging to stay with me, made me absolutely want to die. During those first few months, I would crawl back into my house, lay on the living room floor, sometimes getting myself plastered drunk, because….how had I gotten to this place? This was not how life was supposed to be, not the kind of parent I was supposed to be, even if I had chosen this path and the end of my marriage. It would take all I had to get into bed in an empty, quiet house each night, and then get up each morning and face another breakfast alone, hating this void of my kids not being with me.

And yet, paradoxically, I did not despair.  Because while there was this horrible thing that hurt my heart so terribly, there was the possibility of hope. This hope rising, the hope that had made me brave enough to change my life, to listen to my gut for once, to trust myself…told me that I would get through this “I just want to lay down and die” pain of what I was going through with my kids. Each day, something would happen that would grow this hope, and as time went on I realized that I, in fact, was not going to die from pain, and my kids were not going to die from pain, and that everything was going to be OK.  I found that I could take pleasure and solace in things even when my heart ached for my children. I began to explore all the things in life that intrigued me even though I still had fears and hurts and unknowns that I had no clue how to deal with.  I could laugh and cry, and I can still laugh and cry, at the very same moment. This is joy.

Rumi said, “When you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving in you, a joy.”  I totally believe this.  When you approach life by listening to the voice in your soul, your gut feeling, your instincts… even when hard, difficult things are required of you… you can sense this joy river within, and it begins to carry you, where fear and despair were once the currents that directed your life.

************************************************************************************

Too many people are biding their time in life without any joy. Life becomes about checking off the next box, or climbing ladders, or creating external appearances that will garner laud and approval from others whose opinions really don’t matter anyway.

I hate that so much despair exists in the world, even in first world countries like the United States, where we live in relative ease and luxury.  How easily we forget that life is freaking magical, and how quickly we forget to be in absolute awe of the amazingness around us! I was talking with a friend the other night about our cell DNA and how I heard a fact about it that made me physically giddy and childishly excited.  If you took all of the DNA from al the cells in the average human being and stretched it out end to end in a linear fashion, it could go to the Sun and back 300 times!!!  Come on!!!  I mean, do you even need to believe in God to not be freaking amazed and overjoyed by the wonder of that?!  Doesn’t it dazzle you to imagine how far DNA would stretch if we took all of the genetic material from the 7-something billion people in the world and laid it out end to end?

We lose our joy because of how we frame life, because of the things we choose to focus on, and because we forget to wake up every morning with fresh eyes and open hands, willing to receive whatever life has for us.  I am in no way denying that events and people in life can be monstrous, shitty, and, well….evil.  But I am so completely soul-convinced that, as the Gospel of John said, the darkness cannot overcome the Light.

*************************************************************************************

I like practical, and I like lists.  So, here are listed, based on my life experience, six things that will absolutely cut yourself off from joy in life. So, if you don’t want joy, revel in these.  If you want to cultivate joy and peace, strive to fight against these tendencies, however possible.

1. Believe all of the thoughts in your head. In fact, believe that you ARE your thoughts.  There is plenty of scientific research out there that shows our brains have a greater affinity for negative thoughts than positive ones. And somehow, we all seem to grow into the belief that whatever comes down our thought pipeline must automatically be true…AND…those thoughts must be us because they came from our brains, didn’t they?  Nope!  You are not your thoughts, and just because your brain churns out an idea doesn’t mean that you even have to pay attention to it.  There is a REAL YOU that is a witnesser, a watcher, of all the thoughts that come into your brain.  It takes time and practice to separate the real you from the personality you, but it can happen.  I cannot recommend Eckhart Tolle and Byron Katie highly enough for teaching you how to find the REAL YOU within.

2. Refuse to believe that the obstacles are the path. If you think that the only meaningful life is one that is rosy and blemish-free, then you will absolutely never have any joy. The obstacle IS the path!  REAL life, the real experience of being human, is being and accepting where you are and what you have now.  There can be no other way.

We learn to love and to grow through things not being easy, by not going our way….because….we learn that we don’t have to have things go our way to have joy, to be content, to love well. The obstacles teach us that it is not the externals that make us or break us….it is how we work with those obstacles and let them refine us.

3. Assume that all you see and perceive with your five senses is really all that exists. On one hand, I am very analytical and data-driven. On the other hand, I’m about as woo-wooey as they come.  I am absolutely convinced that the cosmos is enchanted, and any time someone tells me its just a matter of time before science figures everything out, I secretly smile to myself and say, “We’ll see.”   To me, God, the Divine, the Universe…is a mystery.  And, as Rob Bell has said, “mystery is infinitely knowable.” Which means that the spirit in everything will always be enchanted.  Try and convince me otherwise.

There are too many things that are unexplainable by just using our “5” senses.  Those senses can’t explain love.  They can’t explain how people can dream things that actually happen. They can’t explain the spiritual connections we feel with some people in our lives. And they can’t explain JOY.

But, if you think that the only things that actually exist are what you can hear, taste, touch, smell, and see….well, you might be occasionally happy but you’re going to miss out on some of the real mystery of all things and the deepest meaning of existence.

4. Identify strongly with your roles in life. The other day, in the hospital, I randomly had a patient ask me if I was a runner.  I was so pleased because, while I run and enjoy the heck out of it, I don’t exactly have a runner’s body and I’m not terribly fast or nimble.  So, to have someone recognize just by my body mannerisms that I am a runner simply please me to no end.

However, this identification as a runner made me think of the other roles in life I identify with.  I’m a mother, I’m an intellectual, I’m this or I’m that.  And while it’s great to have things that we are passionate about in life, over-identifying with anything can ruin joy for us….because we can get lost when the role we identify with is taken away from us.  The key to joy is to recognize that we all wear hats, we are all passionate about certain things….but those things are not who we are at our core. It is this recognition that helps us get up off the floor and keep living life when we are wrecked by devastating events. We are so much more than what is happening to us.

5. Stay in relationship with and in close proximity to people who treat you like crap. Nothing, absolutely nothing, will rob you of joy like negative people that tear you down…or even those who make minimal to no effort to encourage you. This is something I’ve discovered in the last several years:  life is TOO short and there are too many amazing people out there in the world for you to continue to do life with people who treat you like shit.  FOR REAL.

We don’t have to stay in relationship with people just because they’ve been in our lives forever.  We don’t have to be in relationship with people just because they are family. We don’t have to stay in relationship with people just because we feel guilty or codependent or lonely.  Necessary Endings by Henry Cloud – go buy this book and read it.

If you want joy in your life, seek out the people who are joyful. Seek out the people who notice your faults and weaknesses, but would much rather talk about and spotlight your strengths. Seek out the people who are literally willing to go in the trenches with you; not the ones who keep telling you why you’re such an idiot that you ended up in the trenches in the first place. Seek out the people that make you a priority, not an option. Follow the people that spread joy in their wake.

6. Avoid pain at all cost.  This is one of those, “trust me on this” things.  I don’t know why the universe is set up like this. God didn’t ask me for my input when They were making the rules.  But, for some reason, pain so very often comes before joy.  I’m not a huge fan of pain…but I’m gradually learning not to avoid it because I know that when handled properly, pain is often the gateway to joy. When we choose to avoid pain, emotional and sometimes physical, we may remain safe….we may remain comfortable…but there’s a very great chance that our lives will be much less rich and joyful than they could be if we had faced our pain head-on.

*************************************************************************************

I would much rather live a life drunk on joy and be thought of as a fool than to plod through life complaining and griping and feeling fatalistic and hopeless while being considered wise by the world.

To quote Rumi again…. “