Sunday, September 20, 2015

Staying Open on the Side of Love

If I had to take a guess, I would wager that I will be learning the following lesson for the rest of my life: you do not have to do the hard things on your own. 

I learn this lesson over, and over, and over again...and when it comes down to it, my go-to response in the hard times is that I need to pull in, shut down, withdraw from others.  I need to toughen up, knuckle down, pull myself together, and handle the thing.  I get imaginary bonus points if I look good doing it.  No sleep?  No problem.  There's nothing a little make-up, a skirt, and a hair-do can't cover, right?

On my good days, you can frame this as fiercely independent.  On my fair days, you can frame it as stubborn.  Both would likely be correct.

On the bad days, though, what this is, really, is stupid.  It has long led to unhelpful patterns. I like to think that I'm a pretty rational person, and this pattern -- it's not rational. 

I'm trying, then, to channel my stubborn energies into stubbornly changing this pattern.  It is not easy.  I don't feel like I always really know how.  But I'm trying.

The past two weeks have had so many hard things.  I have felt small.  And scared.  And stepped on.  I hate feeling small, scared, and stepped on.  Blogger Glennon at Momastery talks about how the only thing you need to do is focus on doing the next right thing.  I have been focusing on this with an intensity that has taken all of my energy -- almost like I'm rock climbing, and looking for the next foot or handhold that will support me as I continue scaling the wall of rock.  Reach up.  Grab.  Test it out before committing to it.  Will this one hold me?  Yes?  Take a breath. Let this be the next right step. 

And I did take the right steps.  I continue to take the right steps.  I have taken the steps that feel true to me, and what I believe is right, and my sense of ethics.  I have accused myself of making the wrong decisions, of being overly moralistic, of being silly.  I accused myself of being wrong.  I tried to convince myself that I, as a person, am wrong.  And when I did those things, I knew they were not the right steps.  I did the best I could to stop from fully grasping those handholds.  I tested them, held onto them for a bit, even -- but they were not right, and when I saw a better next right step, I let them go. That's what taking the next right step is all about, I think.

I read this post about two weeks ago, and I've been wanting to write something about it ever since.  I cried over this post, because oh my goodness I know those moments.  Don't you?  You should read the post, because it's hard, and true, and beautiful, but here's the gist: Glennon did some very beautiful things for someone else.  Upon doing the beautiful things, however, she found (1) that she had not done the beautiful things perfectly and (2) that others were angry about the particular beautiful thing she had done. 

And when this happened, she writes, "And I heard what I ALWAYS hear when my pride is all scuffed up and my heart is darkening and I'm wanting to SHUT DOWN and retreat and lick my wounds forever.  I hear: STAY OPEN.  STAY OPEN.  STAY OPEN.

You guys, that's the only way to make a mess beautiful.  Stay Open.  To everyone and everything.  All the time.  I'm absolutely convinced of this horrible truth.  The good news is that I know this.  The bad news is that Staying Open is the hardest thing on Earth."

There's a breath living in that, isn't there?

My story behind the shutdown is different from Glennon's, but my heart feels raw and like it needs more space around it.  The simplified version is that someone said things that made me feel hated and wrong.  I did the next right thing and I talked to the necessary people about the many issues this presented, and those people made me feel scared, and small, and stepped on.  I have had multiple conversations, with many people, and I have one more -- a big one -- remaining.  I hope that will be the end, but I don't know for sure.  My body physically feels like it wants to curl in upon itself in self-protection.  I am not kidding when I agree with Glennon in saying that I want to "shut down and retreat and lick my wounds forever."  Part of me wants to decide that the world doesn't get to have my heart right now.  It is mine, and if I want to shut down around it, I can. 

But there is that voice that tells me to stay open.  There are many voices, really, but mostly it sounds like friends asking, "you okay?"  Every time that happens -- every time that voice comes in -- it's a little wedge in the door, reminding me that it's okay to stay open.   And this action -- this staying open -- it made three things happen:

(1) It led to a big meltdown.  I cried, and I panicked.  I mean, I really panicked.  I mean a think-I'm-dying, can't-find-the-oxygen, can't-move-my-body sort of panic.  I mean three days of joint pain, just because my body was so flooded with stress and inflammation sort of panic. 

(2) It complicated the issue tremendously.  Because I did not shut down my heart, I stayed open to the possibility of connection and perspective.  In my next interaction with that person who made me feel hated and wrong, I was able to really listen and hear her heart, and's the thing.  She thinks she's doing the next right thing.  She really does.  For her, these steps -- these steps that I know are wrong and hateful -- they seem to her like the next right thing.  She is hurting.  She is angry.  And all she wants is to do the next right thing.

(3) I allowed myself to be not alone.  In fact, I allowed myself to be more me.  It's scary.  And it's hard.  But it is less scary and hard than the scary, small, stepped on feeling.  That is important.

At church today, our new, amazing intern minister spoke right to my heart in ways that took my breath away.  Among other things, he said something about how we can stand in the truth while still standing on the side of love. Honestly, I lost the context around it, and I didn't hear him afterwards (sorry, Anthony), because I was so busy really hearing that phrase.

We can stand in the truth while still standing on the side of love.

By staying open, I can stand in the truth of feeling hated and wrong.  I can stand in the truth of feeling small, and scared, and stepped on. 

And, by staying open, I can also still stand on the side of love.  I don't need to sacrifice my truth of hurt in order to do the next right thing.  It doesn't have to be either/or.  It is hard....but it can be yes/and.  By staying open, I don't need to do the hard things alone.  By staying open, I can let others stand with me on the side of love.

And this, I think, is the only antidote to feeling hated and wrong.  This is the next right step forward from feeling stepped on, and scared, and small.  When we let others stand with us on the side of love, there are so many right steps forward. 

Thank goodness I keep learning that we don't need to do hard things on our own.  

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Drawing the circle wide

You know that feeling you get in the pit of your stomach?  The one that says "fear" and "danger" and "stop"?  You know the way your chest can clench sometimes with that feeling, and the way it makes you want to fold inward and protect your heart?  You know that feeling?

I have been living with this feeling for a little over a week now.  Actually, that's a lie.  I have been running from this feeling for a little over a week now.  I've pretended to confront it every now and again -- but haven't really.  I've said hello to it as I ran by, more likely.  I think it appreciated the acknowledgment, but it wasn't satisfied.  That feeling is a greedy sonofabitch who wants ALL of the attention before it will think about going away.

I gave a workshop yesterday on mindfulness and self-compassion -- and it was messy, and challenging, and hard, and exhausting, and some version of right that is hard for me to understand and accept.  I came home last night and I was tired and overwhelmed with all the other things that need doing, and I didn't want to think about the things that are hard.  I couldn't focus on anything, though -- not work that should have been done, not mindless TV, or reading, or even knitting, so my brain did the thing where it cycles rapidly through ALL of the things that are hard.  Eventually, I went to sleep, but then woke up at 4:30 this morning just to continue cycling through the thoughts of all the hard things.  And not just the current hard things.  This was one of those "remember that time you said the dumb thing when you were 12?" type of cyclings.  I thought of all of the things. 

This morning, I drove to church, and I felt like a hypocrite.  I felt like I suck at mindfulness and self-compassion, and I felt like everyone must know that.  If I didn't have obligations at church, I honestly wouldn't have gone.  The reason?  Because I'm scared.  Because my brain likes to make associations, and because right now those associations are saying "you have asked for too much."  The faulty associations in my brain are saying, "shut down now," are saying, "pull back now," are saying, "don't share your heart."  It's not because of church or the people there, to be clear -- it's me, and another situation that feels messy and hard, and old feelings that crop up and become pervasive when I feel scared, or unsupported, or alone in something I need to do.

So this morning I went to church, and I sang with the choir for the first time in several months.  And this song...this song will never not fill me with emotion and intensity and love and heartache.  This song -- it speaks right to that hurt place in my heart.  This morning, we stood in a circle around the congregation, and we sang this song, and it was powerful, and right, and profoundly good. 

Draw the circle, draw the circle wide.
Draw the circle, draw the circle wide.
No one stands alone, we'll stand side by side
Draw the circle, draw the circle wide.

Draw the circle wide, draw it wider still
let this be our song, no one stands alone
standing side by side
draw the circle, draw the circle wide.

While we were singing, I could look at the faces of the people around me, and I knew that they needed it, too.  I saw tears, and closed eyes, and faces holding emotions that told me how much we all need this widening circle.  Not only do we need the circle, we need this assertion - again and again - that we are part of the circle.  That we can widen the circle.  That we will widen the circle.  That we are not alone.  Perhaps there is that hurting part of everyone's hearts that needs the reminder that no one stands alone.

As I was driving home, many hours later, I continued to sing this song, and to think about what it means, and how hard I struggle with being in community sometimes, and how scared I am of moving into this week.  I thought about how I know this circle is there, and how hard it is to believe it will continue to be there.  I pictured us -- all of us in this community -- in a literal circle, holding hands, and how there is always room to expand the circle.  How many times I have seen circles of chairs expand and contract as people arrive and depart. 

Then I pictured how, when my heart is hurting, I can step outside the circle and join the hands of the people on my left and my right.  I can seamlessly create a space and close it, and the circle will continue expanding and contracting.  When my heart is not hurting, I can step back in.  This image -- this closing and expanding of the circle -- it was, actually comforting.

But then I thought of this quote by Rumi: "Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it."

I thought about all the barriers I have built against love.  I thought about the ways that love, in all its forms, is fucking terrifying.  I thought about the ways that I have dismantled (or am dismantling) some of those barriers, and the ways that I pull them back out like a shield, like a force field, like a suit of armor when things feel hard. 

That's when it hit me.  And when it hit me, it hit me hard. 

Hey, the thought said, quietly. 

Hey, listen.

You CAN step outside the circle.  You can. 

But you can also step in.

And guys...this simple completely undid me.  I cried big, fat, ugly tears, and hid my face in my sweatshirt, because I don't even like my dog to see me cry. 

I thought about the ways I see it happen all the time -- this stepping in, and stepping back, and stepping out and back in again.  This is the way of the circle.  It is ever expanding.  Ever containing.  Ever changing.

The choice here -- the choice is mine.  The barriers to love that exist in my heart...they are real, and they are there for a reason.  I can step outside the circle.  My heart is uncomfortable right now as she attempts to find her footing, and maybe I choose that the world does not get to have my heart right now.  She is mine, and if I want to shut everything down around her, I can.

Maybe I step out and close the space I am standing in, knowing that when I open my heart again, the circle will still be drawn wide.  Maybe I continue to stand in the circumference.  Maybe I step outside of the circle and leave a gap.

Or maybe.


Maybe, this time, I choose to step in. 

Draw the circle wide, draw it wider still
let this be our song, no one stands alone
standing side by side
draw the circle, draw the circle wide.

I am drawing the circle wide, friends, and I repeat to you: no one stands alone. 

No one stands alone.