Thursday, October 21, 2010

Fallen and Lost

Yesterday, I took a sub teaching job at a high school in Columbia, a dance class. What unfolded was the day from hell. I got to the school and realized that the teacher I was working for had neglected to tell me which space was hers for parking, and spent 10 minutes driving in circles until I found another teacher who could point me in a direction to an empty space. By that time, I was late arriving in the building, and classes were going to start in 5 minutes. I checked in with the office, and was handed a piece of paper telling me where to go, and then when I asked where the classroom was located, the woman brushed me off with an irritated, "down the hallway over there" and I headed out. I walked "down the hallway over there" and found no dance studio at all, but ended up locked in a corridor and unable to get out. I banged and banged on the door, bruising and cutting my hand, finally getting someone to let me out. This teacher led me to the proper classroom, and I walked into a room full of bitchy 15 year old girls with attitude seeping out of their pores.

Plans? Nope. This teacher didn't leave a single note for what I was supposed to do. I called the office once, then again, asking for them to find some kind of plans. They didn't. Finally, when a particularly bitchy foursome put on their ipod and proceeded to blast gangsta rap, I went over and told them to kill it. They were nasty, and probably deserving of a good ass-kicking, but I just walked away. I finally was told by the office to put on a video...which one, they had no suggestion. I found something and put it on. The bitchy girls continued to be bitchy, and loud, and then proceeded to direct their bitchiness at me. I went to them and told them they were too loud and that they were being rude, and that if they felt the need to continue, I would happily have them removed. They continued, and I put another call into the office to have them removed. At that point, the office decided they needed me in another classroom. I happily took the switch.

Math class. I did have a couple free class periods, which is rare at this school. They tend to really use sub teachers for all they can, with little appreciation. Finally the fourth period class arrived, and I was only one of three teachers in the room. The other two took care of things, while I sat back and pretty much helped with discipline. This was a class full of kids who were barely passing Algebra, and some felt the need to share with the whole room that they were, in fact, failing the class. I have rarely been in a classroom like that, full of students who are so rude and disrespectful that they will outright disrespect teachers to their faces, shouting and making threats, using obscene language at top volume, and generally refusing to participate in the class. It was like being in a circus, or a zoo. And in spite of my usual intentions to find the ways that kids are not being served and respected, all I could think about was how this class of students was a joke, and how unevolved they were. They were, for the most part, just not very smart, and it is a huge dicouragement to me when I consider that these are the "average" kids in one of the best school systems in the country. If this is "average" then there are a large majority of kids in this country with this kind of point of view. They don't want to learn, they just want to play with their electronic devices and feel like they are entitled to certain things - entertainment, respect, and no responsibility for themselves. It made me angry, and hopeless. There was no spark evident in most of these kids - no spark to learn, to fulfill their potential, to contribute something of themselves to the world. Just to get what they want, and if they don't, they'll pitch a fit.

I was slated to leave the school before the last class of the day, but the office called me at the last possible moment - the end of the previous class, after the bell - to tell me they needed me in another class to cover. They gave me a room number. When I asked who it was, and what class, I was told they had too much going on to answer those questions, to just go there. I was once more put off by the disrespectful, demanding attitude of the people who run this school. Part of me definitely wanted to go to the principal of the school and tell them my experiences there. But the other part of me said "fuck it." I can simply refuse to go there.

I left the school feeling edgy, aggressive, and pissed off. I had a huge headache. I was hoping that getting my hair cut would help with the day, and then had planned to go to DC to meditate. I ended up having an impromptu afternoon coffee date with a friend, which was a blessing, for sure, and then went off to have my hair cut. Which was also a major disappointment. The haircut was adequate, but not good - especially for the cost, and set off a whole new level of sadness, since my amazing stylist of many years died suddenly back in the winter. I left in tears, feeling crushed by the day. I didn't go to DC, I just didn't have the energy for anything more. I spent the evening in tears, wondering why I even bother to try to do anything at all.

I am still sitting with that. Why fucking bother is the question in my mind right now. Why bother going to get my hair cut and paying a lot of money for it when what I get is mediocrity. I could have gone to the Hair Cuttery, or just dreadlock my hair and not even think about it at all. Why should I bother to go into schools with an attitude of compassion and listening and wanting to contribute when I am faced with bitchy, entitled attitudes of children who don't have any desire to grow beyond their childish demands. Why should I bother making any contribution at all to a culture that is shallow and immature, that seeks entertainment and the most fancy, shiny new device, seeking happiness in material garbage? Let the fucking culture die a poisonous death. I don't care. I won't feed it, support it, help it along, or contribute to it in any way. Let it rot.

Which leaves me feeling lost and confused and full of sadness. I feel like a fish out of water. Sure, the water is poisoned, and I don't want to be in it. And now, I'm mostly not in it. But where am I? And what do I do now? I am not at all regretful of my path. I know who I am, I know what really matters in life, and I know that I want to cultivate my life from those points of view. But how do I do it if I feel like I am doing it alone? I don't have the energy for it. Not to swim upstream in the very poisoned water I have made such effort to pull myself out of. I don't have any answers at this point. I feel lost.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Honoring My Heart

Today I feel like my heart has been dropped on the floor and kicked around a bit, and like my guts have been scooped out. I feel betrayed by someone who is very close to my heart, someone who is beloved to me. Someone who has asked more of me than I am able and willing to give, and who at last has shown their true colors - clearly letting me know that my boundaries are something that they cannot honor, that their needs are more important than mine. While I see that this is not at all born of malicious intent, it has become a persistent issue in our friendship, and has finally cast a crushing blow. And the truth of that is staring me in the face, unwavering. It would take more to heal this situation than I believe this person is capable of at this time. And I feel a tremendous loss. Just a week ago I told this person, "I hope that you will always be in my life."

But having someone in my life when they can't respect my needs and boundaries is not okay. Having someone in my life who questions those needs and boundaries for their own selfish reasons is not okay. When someone I love very much questions my needs and boundaries for the sake of trying to get their own needs met, I am called to question the real motivation of this person's desire to be in my life. In their point of view, I hear this: "if you truly value me and love me, you will sit aside your boundary and make me happy by fulfilling my need." In NVC language, this becomes a demand when there is no room for "no, that's not possible." And to me, when someone who claims to value my friendship deeply, it would only be natural that that person wouldn't want me to betray myself and my own needs in order to fulfill theirs. For me, I would never ask someone I deeply care about to violate their own boundaries for my sake. I would do my best, in fact, to make sure I didn't violate those boundaries because they clearly serve the person I care about. To me, that is love.

And here I am, knowing that I have done the right thing in upholding my needs, restating my boundary, and honoring myself. There have been so many times in my life when I let my own boundaries and needs go in order to be the very thing that someone else wants. I have done this out of the desire to please others, and I have done this out of lack of self-love and self-respect, believing that my own needs didn't count as much as the needs of others. After all, I do want so very much to be liked and accepted. I want to be dear to people, I want to be loved.

In the past, though, "I want to be loved" meant that I would do a lot in order to receive that. I was able to dissociate from my own feelings and body in order to just go with the flow, to live easy-breezy, to not ask too much from other people, because if I did ask too much, they would leave me standing there, alone and unaccepted. I felt so much lack of acceptance as a kid and a teenager, and as I became an adult, I wanted to do the exact opposite. Whatever would make me lovable and acceptable and valued to others is what I wanted to do and be. But in the years since my spiritual practice took serious root, I have had to face this part of myself again and again. This part of me is rooted in fear - fear that I'm not worth much, that my needs don't matter, that I'm not of value on my own, that I must do and be something in order to be accepted by others. And in the last year, I have spent a hell of a lot of time disengaging from these beliefs. They are lies. Absolute lies.

Being authentic and true to myself are the very essence of my path. Living from the pure voice of my heart is the ground of my being. I still fail plenty at these things, but I am now firmly rooted in the practice of returning to them as I return to the breath in meditation. I am who I am. I am an amazing woman, a beautiful woman, a woman with many gifts and a lot of love to share. I am a nurturer and a caretaker who gives freely of her time and energy to those in her life who she cares about. I am a powerful, passionate, and creative soul, and my heart extends to a family as large as my scope of feeling and vision can extend. I see God in everything, and see beyond the illusions of personality and worldliness a great deal of the time. I see the best in people, their purest essence, and love that - even when people aren't living from that place. I love myself so much that I absolutely refuse to betray myself or lie to myself or bring harm to myself ever again, so long as I can help it. If this means that I will spend the rest of my life alone, friendless, loveless, abandoned by everyone but God, then so be it. But I don't actually believe that's going to be the case for a minute, either.

So today, I mourn. I mourn what has been a beautiful friendship in my life, one that is deeply damaged now. I feel sorrow, knowing that I have honored my own deepest needs in this situation ... it may mean that by trusting and loving myself this much I may lose this person in my life. If that is the case, I have to trust life, and know that it was meant to be this way.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Cleaning out my Life

It's a beautiful afternoon, and I'm sitting on my porch. I spent a few hours today hanging out at the Catonsville Farmers' Market with my friend, and we shared some really great conversations. It's a blessing to know that I'm not alone in going through some things, thinking some things, feeling some things, and right now, this friend seems to be on the same page with me a lot of the time. She is a beloved sister to me, and I am glad to have her in my life.

Since Friday afternoon, I have been filled with anger, rage, and frustration. I feel it in my body, a fire that is ready to unleash itself on anyone who pushes things. I feel it in my mind, showing up as rigid intolerance, utterly unforgiving, wielding a sharp sword of clarity and ferocity. I feel it in my heart, in my heart's unwillingness to stay open and soft, in a mode of protection that is unwilling to risk something so precious as my sincere true lovingness in the face of so much that isn't deserving. My heart is a sacred jewel, and must be earned, and my mind and body are poised like a wild animal, or a legion of warriors, ready to attack at a moment's notice when someone unworthy dares to cross the line. I dare them to try. They will be ripped to shreds, struck by lightning, and speared by a thousand sharp swords in seconds.

I am a woman who has committed herself to nonviolence and self-awareness, to living in heart-centered ways, and to embracing tolerance, understanding, and love in all that I do. And, that said, right now I am feeling like my peaceful, loving, accepting, and open nature has offered my heart up freely to people who may not be prepared to truly love and honor it. And I'm pissed about that. Pissed at those who I have let into my life who are not evolved and aware enough to receive the precious gift of my love, who are too clumsy and self-interested to truly honor my place in their lives. And pissed at myself for being so naive and trusting, believing that I am impervious to this kind of suffering, just because I have spent so many years forging a deep, committed spiritual path, and because I've spent so much time facing and working through my own deep issues. Right now, I feel like curling up into a cocoon, holding myself tight with all the love I have, and pulling a cloak of spikes around that cocoon, to puncture anyone who dares come too close without careful invitation.

I am a tolerant woman, full of understanding. I have sought to understand where all people are coming from in their feelings and choices. I have studied Nonviolent Communication to help with that process, both with understanding others and myself. I have cultivated the practice of slowing down, trying to observe what is happening with some degree of objectivity, and then checking in with the feelings and needs for myself and whoever else might be involved in a given scenario. My heart longs for every relationship that I find myself in - whether it is with friends, family, colleagues, or a lover/partner - to be rooted in this kind of communication. And, that said, the truth is that many people just don't want to show up that much. They don't have the time or interest to go into that kind of process of self-exploration, or to share a process of exploration together. They're too busy, or too afraid to face something so real, or too wrapped up in their own situation to bother. And I find myself full of longing - longing for more intimate connection with people who just aren't capable of offering that. And I must be a fool, because my loving heart keeps making the space for them, and expecting things to shift.

Today, I feel inclined to begin a major purge of the people in my life. I don't know that I'll actually follow through with doing it quite yet, because I love who I love, and don't particularly enjoy feeling lonely. But what I am feeling is that if there are people in my life who truly make me feel loved and appreciated, who make time for me, and who are excited about being around me, and who contribute to my life and heart in sincerely meaningful ways, these are the people I want to hold close, people who will be invited inside my prickly cocoon. But those people who love basking in my radiance, who get a lot out of what I have to offer, who are wishy-washy and noncommittal, who enjoy my company when it's convenient for them, and whose sincerity is questionable from day to day, these people who are simply takers of my light and love simply have to go. It may come as a wild outburst, or a door slammed in their face, or perhaps just my disappearance altogether. No matter. I am coming back into my own heart now, and nurturing myself there. I want to live honestly and authentically, and want to be around people who are reliable and loving and real and open and sincere. I want to be around people who inspire me and who I inspire, who are thrilled to have the blessing of my company, and who show up fully on a regular basis. All else is a waste of my energy.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Loving With Abandon

I awoke to purring, my kitty had leapt up onto my pillow during the night and was snuggled down really close to my head. This morning, the sky is bright blue, but it is still quite cold. Now, as I sit wrapped in a blanket and in my meditation shawl, he sits near me, purring away, occasionally rubbing his head against the screen of my computer, beckoning me to love him instead of this plastic device. So, I reach over to him, and love him. He is my truest companion, and without him in this last year I don't know if I would have made it.

As I sit here writing, my heart steps back in time one year ago today. Right about now, I was sprawled out on the bathroom floor, trying to comfort my dying kitty as he struggled and howled. I wept, I tried to love him with my hands, and I talked to him about how much he had blessed my life for thirteen years. He would lay still, and I would look really closely to see if he was still breathing, then he would squirm and moan again. It was the most heart-wrenching thing I've ever witnessed, and the taste of my sorrow is still palpable if I allow my attention to settle there for long. He died one year ago today at a little after 11am.

One thing I've learned in the last year is that the more I grasp to hold on to those beings who have touched my heart, the greater my suffering is when they leave. Another thing I've learned is that while choosing to numb out and love less is appealing in the face of imminent sorrow and loss, the one thing that brings true meaning to life is loving with utter abandon, without holding back. And I've spent much of the last year vacillating between feeling truly loved and held by those who care about me, and feeling utterly alone in a world that doesn't have time to even acknowledge my existence. This inner struggle persists even today, on occasion, when I fall out of the present moment awareness I have worked very hard to cultivate, when I am sucked in by the mind's questioning undertow.

In the last year of my life, I have felt greater loss than I have ever before known. I have felt my own body betray me, I have felt the world crumble around me. I have wondered if I would live through these challenges, and both collapsed into the despair and hopelessness of living a life that is full of loss, and have scrambled with sheer terror to escape from the hungry maw of my own mind's fear. Death became my greatest fear, having witnessed it for the first time one year ago today. Death stalked me some days, chased me some days, and sat breathing heavily down my neck for more nights last winter than I care to speak about now. And the harder I tried to swim away from death, the more tightly I became enmeshed in his nets. I was caught. I would writhe a while, trying to get away, and then, exhausted, would collapse into despair once more. All the time, my mind spinning in its questions, wondering "what is the point of it all" and seeking with ferocity to find some kind of answer, any answer at all, something to hold on to to prove to myself that I could stay afloat. I became a refugee within my own life - running from death and despair, always running, trying to escape the inevitable.

There were a few things in this past year that were utter saviors, and without them I don't know if I could have had the wherewithal in myself to make it through the year. Weekly acupuncture was a miracle, and my acupuncturist showed up for me with strength and compassion and really helped to give me my ground again. I began seeing a counselor, and the months I spent going to her weekly or biweekly really helped me to face my inner demons and to understand myself in a whole new way. In January, too, someone really amazing showed up in my life, and his love and kindness brought healing to my heart in ways that I could have never imagined. And finally, I returned to work with the Medicine, which has helped me to heal my anxiety and sorrow and despair more deeply than anything else can. My community, too, has been an incredible support system ... from taking my panicky phone calls, to listening to me, to opening the door to me after yet one more insomniac night of anxiety and fear. The kindness and generosity that I was offered in this last year have touched me so deeply. Whereas once I believed I could - and should - be able to handle anything and everything on my own, in the last year of my life I learned that I truly cannot, nor do I have to. I can allow other people to hold me, I can trust them and allow them to love me as much as I have tended to love them. And now, my heart is open wider than ever before. The slashes of loss have healed a great deal, but they have allowed me a far greater capacity for love than I had before. And maybe that's one of the key lessons of this Earth plane of existence ... to allow loss to open us beyond our ordinary capacity to love, and to move it into a realm of infinite loving that is our true nature.

And now, I have survived a year of loss and mourning, and have come through the other side of that year with a heart opened wide to the sky. I have spent so much time sorting through the content of my life, facing the dark parts of my psyche and personality, observing my patterns and habits, noticing my resistances and fears, and dismantling the questioning mind - at least a little - that causes all of my suffering. I have found that much of what used to matter to me just doesn't matter anymore. The simplest things bring me the greatest happiness: sitting on a rock in the river, reclining in the sun, listening to the wind in the trees, making a pot of soup, sharing the company of my loved ones, listening with my full presence to those who have something needing to be heard. And love. LOVE. Love matters the most of all. At this point in my life, it is my most sincere wish, from the depths of my heart, that I finally meet the love of my life. I have so much love to give, so much kindness and compassion to offer. Spiritually, I feel like this is a frontier that will offer me so much opportunity to grow and deepen my capacity to love and serve. And I am finally able to receive love, too, to allow love's intensity to penetrate my walls and pierce me, to transform me. In this year, I have met several men who truly touched my heart, and yet it seems that none of them are truly prepared for relationship. I pray with all my heart that in the next year of my life that I will find my love. If one thing has been true throughout this year, and is still true today, it's that I don't want to do this life alone. Not anymore. That is my most sincere prayer.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

One Year

One year ago today, I learned that my beloved feline friend Familiar was dying. I spent three intense days attending to him, sitting present with him, and saying goodbye as he slowly left his body and this Earth. It was the first time that death touched me with such profundity, and I was left in a state of emotional pain that ripped through my life with a dark ferocity I had never before known. My life, in this past year, was filled with inconsolable sorrow, and my mind was sent into a tailspin that continued to rip through my life with desperation. I became enshrouded in a darkness and fear that seemed to want to consume me, to swallow me whole, and to dissolve my body and mind into its own acrid wastage. My heartache was unbearable, my fear was overwhelming, and my life fell apart. I didn't know if I would survive it all.

And here I am. Alive, breathing, more awake than ever before. The suffering of this year of my life brought me to my knees, and taught me so many things. I have learned that in spite of the sharp loneliness I often feel, there are so many beings who love me, and who will hold me and support me if I allow them into my life. I have learned that people are not always who they seem to be, and sometimes the ones who seem to be loving and kind are sometimes only acting out of self-interest. I have learned that there are no rules, not really, and that in the face of great sorrow, love and comfort can reach from beyond my own small view of what is really okay. I have learned that my own mind creates all of my suffering, and that only by training the mind through meditation and contemplation will I be able to let go of the misery I create for myself. I have learned that boundaries are often really important, and that my ideal wish for there to be no boundaries causes harm in my life sometimes. I have learned that the things I fear the most are not really real. I have learned that only by letting go will I fall into a state of deep peace, and only by practicing letting go again and again will my life become rooted in that peace. But more than anything, I have learned that love is the only thing that matters. Loving those beings who I love with total openness and abandon is surrendering to the truth. And when my time to die comes, I will regret nothing if I have given all I can give of my love.

My dear sister came from Peru in August and we shared in some beautiful healing ceremonies. These ceremonies were powerfully transformative in my own life, and helped to shift me beyond the dregs of this year of falling apart. I am grateful for this healing and teaching, grateful in my bones, in my cells, in my heart. But, to loosely quote David Deida, knowing the truth is easy, feeling the truth is profound, and living it makes all the difference. Now, I am in a time of integration in my life. How do I carry the profound teachings I received in those ceremonies into my life and allow them to live through me? By staying truly present. By listening to life as it shows up around me and within me. I must remember what I have been shown, and I must remember it with vigilance every single day. Also, the great gift of those ceremonies was this beautiful opening of my heart. The more I am able to stay present with that open heart love space, the more I will not be pulled back into the whirlwind of my mind. So, I sit to meditate.

It seems to me that by fully feeling the sorrow and loss of the death of my little kitty last year, I was able to surrender to a ferocious process of breaking down that is now allowing me to live from a place of deep openness and trust. In that, I am so grateful to you, my little buddy, for showing me the way to love ever more deeply.


Inside a hostel in Cusco, Peru