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I was reading a friend’s blog this week when something snagged me. She’s taking a workshop that encourages participants to ‘dig deep into wholehearted living, authenticity, and courage,’ and one of the prompts for them to journal was: “I am more or less __________ than most people think.”
It intrigued me, made me start thinking about the many masks we wear. Made me start thinking (again) about how personalities get so little play, when they’re such an influence on the way that we’re perceived (after all, what percentage of the people I encounter in this life will ever make it past my personality into the depth and richness that is me in my entirety? Not very many, if I’m honest about it – that’s just the way it shakes out).
So, what am I, more or less?
I am more vulnerable than most people would think. I tend to project this image of capability and confidence, which is pretty accurate – I am capable and I am confident. But I am also extremely vulnerable, and people mistake my hard candy shell as a sign that I am not hurt as easily as others, or that I can handle a hard truth or criticism better than someone else can. I take on those hurts, and feel them deeply – and once you’ve cut me, I’m bleeding….but I don’t let you see it.
And by extension, I am more sensitive than most people would think, as well. I have cried for the world more times than I can count. I take in others’ hurts and feel it for them, with them. I have a hard time witnessing or attempting to understand cruelty or apathy – they sicken me. The hard candy shell I’ve donned and worn for years is really just an attempt to fool the world into believing that it all slides off of me – but it’s an illusion. Every sling, every arrow finds its mark and embeds more deeply than people realize.
I am more romantic than most people would think. (This is probably one of my dirtiest little secrets, strangely enough.) I do practical really well, and I do pragmatic really well, but in my heart of hearts, I want to be cherished. And for something more than my efficiency. I want someone to inspire yearning in my heart, and to know that I inspire the same in theirs. I want the hearts and flowers and poetry and gallantry and all the girly stuff that I have way too big a chip on my shoulder to admit out loud and which I tend to roundly disabuse publicly.
I am more private than most people would think (especially, I suppose, given the fact that I blog right out there in the open). I am upfront and pretty open – or at least it seems that way. I like truth, I like things to be simple, so I do put a lot of things right out there on the table from the get. But, I only trot out what I’m comfortable with, and that gives the appearance of being very open. I suppose I am more open about my life and my experiences than most other people, but those are the easy things. It’s the true weight of life that I shield from view – the emotional reaction I have to everything that happens. That is what stays closeted, that is what I keep private, that is what goes in my journal – how I feel about everything that’s happened to me and because of me and around me.
That privacy extends into a monkishness that comes over me every so often. I enjoy solitude and silence more than most people would think – especially given the fact that I am outgoing, enthusiastic and gregarious when I am with people. I am able to be those things because I take the time to go away and be by myself. I am able to be those things because I seek out space and silence and stillness. Like air and water, they are necessary for the proper care and feeding of a Carolyn. Most people would have a hard time believing that I could be perfectly content in a hermitage somewhere high upon a hilltop – I would be…as long as it was only a short-ish walk back to people. That way I could get my ‘fix’ of socialization and go straight back to the stillness.
I am less strong than most people would think. I’ve been through more crap than some people, and less crap than others – nonetheless, I’ve shoveled my share of crap, and sometimes a little more than my share. And people always look at me just picking up that shovel and digging in, and say or think that it’s strength that gets me through it. Nope. It’s the desire to be able to put down the damn shovel. It’s the fact that I was raised with the mantra, “It’s just what you do” – as in, carry on, get on with it, don’t stop, don’t mope, don’t stagnate. Just get on with it. Is that strength? I don’t know. What I do know is that there have been plenty of times I’ve been shoveling my way through life, desperate for someone, anyone to see how hard it was, to see how much I hurt, to reach out and carry the load for just a little bit. But when they see you plugging away like that, they figure that you’ve got it, and just keep walking.
The whole time I was writing this, I couldn’t help but see how it was sorta skewed – I’m glad I did it, and it was illuminating and all that, but this is my perception of how I am perceived by others, and that gets tricky. I’ve probably got a pretty good grasp on what I think people do or don’t think about me and who I am, but maybe that vulnerability peeks through more than I think it does. Maybe I think I shield my emotions, when that’s not the case at all. Maybe I’m far more transparent than I believe that I am.
It’s interesting to think about, and it draws into question why I bother to hide parts of myself. Why anyone does. I could just go out there and embrace all my awesome, embrace all my flaws….but not quite yet. I’ve got a great idea – you go first, and then I’ll do it, too. In the meanwhile, what are you more or less?
You know what it is? For the love of GOD, it’s a blasted CELL PHONE. Everyone has one. I’ve seen grade schoolers yapping away on them. No one’s been able to look a high schooler in the eye in YEARS – and not due to some kind of teen angst – but because they’re so busy looking down in adoration at the technological marvel in their hands supplying them with the high of instant and immediate gratification and connection that they’ve lost touch with reality.
Yes, I own a cell phone. Yes, I use my cell phone. But – I am not hooked on the thing.
It all comes back to that “BE HERE NOW” thing. When I’m out with someone or a group of friends, I am with them. I used to have a rule about not answering my phone on Sundays…which became well known after a while.
It’s story time folks…it’s a cautionary tale that comes out of the annals of my long work experience….
Once upon a time, there was a gal who was working in a retail store. She stood at the counter and cheerily greeted customer after customer. One day, a man approached with this machine next to his head. He spoke loudly into the machine, all the while depositing items he (presumably) intended to purchase on her countertop, and the countertops of the other two lanes.
When it was the gentleman’s turn to purchase his items, the gal efficiently scanned them all, bagged them all, applied the coupons (which he did not mention and did not supply), ran his card through, and waited. The gentleman never greeted her, never acknowledged her. He might have been at a self-checkout…except that he would have had to provide his own service, and in this case he was actually being served by a human being…
The gentleman left his items scattered all across her checkout area as he ferried them to his car in several trips, all the while busily chatting away on the phone.
Ten minutes later, he came back into the store, a look of consternation on his face. He skipped the other people in line and brandished his receipt in the checker’s face, demanding to know whether he had been given the sale price for the items that he’d purchased. She deftly plucked the receipt from his hand and showed him, item by item, what he’d purchased, and what he’d saved. He said, “Oh,” turned on his heel and walked through the automatic doors without a second glance.
Okay…yeah – I was the checker (though I’m sure you guessed that already). That actually happened. I was agog at his rudeness. Other customers commiserated with my plight as I attempted to gain enough attention at the end of the transaction to get him to pay. Yet no one called him on his uncouth behavior. No one said, “Sir, you’re inconveniencing everyone with your rudeness.” No one told him that he was presumptuous or selfish or myopic.
Hey buddy – BE HERE NOW.
This is endemic. This is epidemic.
I reluctantly started carrying a cell phone when I was given one as a gift. It was a sad day people. I am a great one for going off the map, having little side trips and adventures, getting lost and loving it. I prize my alone time.
And now? Now, since I own this consarned machine, there is the presumption that since they can call, I should answer. That if I do answer, the caller should get priority over whatever it is that I am doing. There are many times when I truly would rather watch paint dry than talk on the phone.
I agree that there is some merit in being able to reach into my purse and call for help if I have a flat tire or run into a crowd of flesh eating zombies. I agree that there is some convenience afforded me by being able to call to find my way to somewhere instead of driving around “aimlessly.” I agree that there is some value to having a cell phone.
I just mourn what I traded in order to have that convenience – being unfettered. And I mourn what society has given up in order to have that convenience – politeness, connection, social niceties, impromptu conversations with strangers, the bliss of watching a movie without someone’s phone going off, quiet dinners in restaurants without someone in the booth next to you banging on about how their boyfriend is a cheating rat and he’s going to get his….and so much, much more.
If it was hard to be present and in the moment – if it was hard to “be here now” in the age(s) that preceded cell phones, how much harder has it become? I don’t really care how “old fashioned” it sounds, but put down the cell phone people – look around at your world and the fabulous people in it. Unplug, and see how quickly calm enters your life. Unplug from that parasite attached to your head, and plug back into now.
(Steps carefully down from soapbox…..)
You are what your deep, driving desire is.
As is your desire, so is your will.
As your will is, so is your deed.
As your deed is, so is your destiny.
Lore states that it takes at least twenty-one continuous days of an activity to form a habit, or to break one.
I started in on two very important re-commitments this past week – my daily Reiki practice and daily meditation. I’m four days into my twenty-one days on the daily Reiki practice, and three days into the daily meditation – and it feels GOOD.
One of the meditations this week included the above quote from the Vedic wisdom texts, the Upanishads. It tugged at me, and pulled at me, and kept gnawing on the corners of my thoughts like an insistent puppy.
Desire – I have shied away from this word. We’re taught that it’s wanton to feel desire. That it’s naughty. What garbage. I’m reclaiming it – and I’m going to start viewing these things I’m trying to implement, grow, and change in my life as desires…ones I’m capable of fulfilling.
Desire is so much more positive, so much more vital, visceral, and vibrant than ‘want.’ Desire makes me think more of actively getting something, whereas ‘want’ makes me think of ‘lack’ and feels depriving. It’s a mind game – but not so different from the hundreds of other ones I trip myself through every day.
So, here’s to knowing what I desire, and being willing to discover more along the way. Here’s to knowing that I have the power to create it in my life, to bring it into being. Here’s to being full of desire, and the passion to pursue it.
The definition of insanity is repeating a series of actions again and again and expecting different results. I guess that means we’re all a little insane. Because nothing changes if nothing changes, and if I keep doing what I’ve always done, I’ll get what I’ve always gotten, and I’ll feel as I’ve always felt.
Well, just yucko to that.
I don’t make New Year’s Resolutions. I don’t sit down and make out a list on December 31st with intentions of immediate implementation the following morning. I tried it a couple of times, and it didn’t really work out for me. Instead, I tend to reach this tipping-point, where there is this eternal scream of “ENOUGH!” resonating from deep within my bones, and I get off my duff and do something about it – no matter what day of the year it happens to fall on.
Coincidentally, I reached one of those tipping points as 2010 drew to a close, and 2011’s arrival was imminent. I reached a tipping-point in just about every stinking area of my life for which it is possible to attain that level of weariness and disgust.
And so I started making some mental lists. And then I made some written lists. And then I made some more written lists, expanded with more details this time and more concrete goals. Then I divided my lists into various schools of goal-setting (because I am a sick and twisted list-lusting individual who could probably benefit from professional help). And then I wrote a series of entries in my journal focusing on the areas where I intended to focus my newfound intentions. And then I had a series of conversations with a series of friends, relatives and acquaintances regarding my intention to set intentions and the existence of these gloriously promising lists.
It’s sick. It really is sick. I know this. It’s like the series of false starts I take before finally plunging off the high dive (or would, that is, if I weren’t paralytically terrified of heights, and especially of heights in combination with aquatic conditions, so it’s a metaphorical imaginary high dive experience).
A friend once pointed out that I was a risk taker – but only once I’d what-if’ed and how-to’ed and plotted and planned and provided for every possible permutation of result and accounted for pretty much every exigency. She was right. It comes naturally to me. I should have been some kind of strategist – oh, wait! I am a strategist – of my own life. And yes, I tend to go through this process more quickly than others (though less quickly than some), but I’m finding that skipping that step just doesn’t work out so well for me.
So, back to it – Nothing Changes if Nothing Changes. So I’ve done a bunch of processing and scheming. And this time, I’m heading for sweeping changes, the magnitude of which are kind of freaking me out a little bit. Because I’m sick of “changing” a situation or a pattern or a behavior, and then realizing that all I’d really done was tell myself a really good story about how doing it that way would be different….and then finding out later that it wasn’t so different, after all.
I’m trying not to focus on the freaked out feeling, though. I’m looking at this phrase – Nothing Changes if NOTHING CHANGES – as a call to bravery. One of the friends I sat down with to verbally hash all this out was my move-a-body-friend Char, who can always be counted upon to say something equal parts pithy and wise. She didn’t fail. She told me that while there was nothing wrong with it, I’d always arranged my life so that I had both an umbrella over my head and a net beneath my feet – safe. But without the umbrella looming above me, I might finally see the clear blue of sky…and without the net, I might finally feel the cool green grass beneath my feet.
So, I’m swallowing nausea, and taking chances, and hoping to God I’m right, but not at all sure if I am, and waiting for the changes I’m implementing to alter my landscape. Because I am the only one who hears that resounding cry echoing off the ridges of my soul – “ENOUGH!” And I am the only one I can point to as the reason for its existence, its continuation, its abolition.
Wish me luck people.
When I was at Mount Mary College studying and learning and growing and climbing Mount Everest-like peaks of educational heights, I met some truly interesting and influential people. I’ve always wanted to write a series of blogs honoring them, and the gifts that they gave me. I will, someday.
Today, though, I started thinking about one particular gal who I met and became friends with on that leg of the journey. I met Jen (her name’s common enough, so I’m not changing it – names have power & I prefer to use real ones whenever possible…) in one of our mutual English classes. We had a LOT in common, and hit it off fast and famously.
Speedy chats before and after class quickly segued into the two of us perched into the wee hours on the wooden Adirondack chairs, weathered and worn smooth with age and use, tucked beneath the sheltering eaves of a hidden nook near the back of the college.
We laughed until our faces hurt and our sides ached. We mused and pondered and what-if-ed our lives. We solved the world’s problems, and railed against its injustices.
We formed a sisterhood. In the long shadow of an edifice built for permanency, we transformed for flight. The chill of fall gave way to winter’s bite, and winter relaxed its iron fist and softened into the sultriness of spring. We sat, young and strong and foolhardy, full of our own beauty and importance and invulnerability, and dreamt and talked and worried and ranted.
And Jen graduated, and fell into doing what new graduates do – wonder if they’ve made the right choices, look for gainful employ, and rediscover reading for pleasure. And I continued to run up that hill and take classes and bury my nose in books, while the ashes of my failing marriage swirled around me. And days bled into weeks and weeks into months, and I missed the sister I’d discovered.
One day, I went out to the mailbox, and there, hidden amongst the dross of bills and residential mailers was a sparkling gem – a letter from Jen. She wrote to tell me that she was leaving, shaking the dust from her boots and the Wisconsin chill from her bones, to go to film school in California. Because of me, because of what I’d said to her.
I sat at my kitchen table, the epicenter of my volatile life, and held that note before me for a long time – an unlooked for beam of light in an otherwise gray day. And I thought, “But, what did I say?”
To this day, I have no idea what it was that I said in the long, continuing conversation of that friendship that lit a fire in her belly and whetted both her longing and resolve for fulfillment. I remember wishing that day, that someone would say something like that to me – something that would eat at my complacency and vault me into action. Eventually, many someones did – eventually, I was able to tell myself the right things in the right moments, too, spurring me to action.
The power of that experience stayed with me. I remain in awe of it – that something I didn’t even clearly remember saying could burrow into another person’s mind, effecting changes I could never have foreseen.
And it makes me wonder how many intrepid souls set out to sea, or crossed mountain ranges, or slayed dragons – literally or figuratively – because someone, somewhere, said something to them. Something that captured their imagination, something that seized them, that caught hold of them and wouldn’t shake loose.
And it made me realize how powerfully we affect one another without ever being aware of it. It made me realize the power of the ideas we share, the power of longing and passion to infect the human heart with desire.
I wonder about her now and again, whether she went on to glory in California, or disaster. I wonder if she’d recognize me now – a phoenix risen many times over from the ashes of the life I light ablaze and burn to cinders around me.
And I’m grateful to her – because while something I said sent her haring off in search of her destiny – something she said taught me a lesson: We are each more important than we can ever know, and that while our legacies are often unseen, intangible, and unheralded, they change the landscape, raze mountains, and alter the course of rivers – with only a word spoken gently into the ear ripe to hear it.
I have not always been the best listener. Shhhh…no one knows that. Um, right.
I’m pretty sure that the universe has been clear on that one little factoid from the get, because it’s developed some wily ways to hammer ideas into my head. One of my favorites is when something I should be ‘getting’ keeps popping up into my screen like a ninja. Catching me unawares, hoping that the shock factor will make an impression. It’s always when I least expect it, and sometimes the very oddness of the situation has been enough to make it rank highly enough in importance to garner notice.
Another favorite is when it seems like no matter which way I turn, or who I strike up a conversation with, that idea is there – I call that the ‘saturation’ technique. It’s like they (being who exactly – pronouns are tricky in metaphysics) figure if they just tell me often enough, it will finally erode my belligerence enough to get in there and make an impression.
The one that’s most apparent is the “I can’t get any further” technique. This almost always happens when I’m reading something that will end up being pretty darn important to me – I start, and get only so far. And then I keep picking that book up and reading from the beginning, because a part of me must realize that I need to read it again. And again. And again.
For the past week, I’ve picked up Pema Chodron’s book Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living about seventy-five times, only to read and reread the first page, and never get any further. I love Pema Chodron. She has a way of phrasing complex and abstract spiritual principles in a way that even the most philosophically stunted or spiritually stubborn among us can access, understand, and implement.
And that simplicity is something that attracts me – because deep down, I know that it doesn’t need to be hard. I make it hard.
Here’s a little spiritual snack for all of you – and a taste of what I’m hung up on this week:
We already have everything we need. There is no need for self-improvement. All these trips that we lay on ourselves – the heavy-duty fearing that we’re bad and hoping that we’re good, the identities we so dearly cling to, the rage, the jealousy and addictions of all kinds – never touch our basic wealth. They are like clouds that temporarily block the sun. But all the time our warmth and brilliance are right here. This is who we really are. We are one blink of an eye away from being fully awake. (Chodron, Start Where You Are)
If you knew me, I’m sure you could pick out about fifteen different spots where my brain is getting in the way of this. And that’s okay. Because I’ll get it when I get it. What she’s trying to hand me is easy…and when I get tired of making it hard, it’ll finally sink in and I’ll be able to read page two.
I’ve been M.I.A. for about a month now. Big things and big changes have been sweeping through my life, and most of what I’ve been writing has been in my journal (home for all the news that’s not fit to print).
One of the big things I’ve been dealing with is this:
At about five in the morning on December 21st, my dad collapsed (a couple of times), and they took him to the emergency room. After about seven hours of running every conceivable test that you can run on a body, they finally pinpointed what was causing the trouble – he had 80% blockage in his ‘widow-maker’ artery (runs along the front of the heart – and isn’t it nice that it’s named that & that the doctors and nurses actually call it that in front of you? Neat. Thanks. We weren’t scared enough) and 60-70% blockage in one of the arteries that runs alongside his heart.
He went from feeling fine and fit the day before, to facing open heart surgery the next morning. My dad is a 57 year old non-smoking, non-drinking, daily bran-eating, daily walker with a physique that could be featured in medical texts as ideal for the male of the species.
He also has a family history of high cholesterol that is unaffected by diet or exercise (as in, didn’t matter how many bran muffins my dad snarfed down, or how many miles he walked, he was going to have to deal with this anyway). His father died of a major heart attack at age 65, again somewhat unexpectedly – a fact which was forefront in all of our minds during this.
So, we were all thrown for the proverbial loop. And it called all sorts of things into question, made each of us face and deal with things that we’d been burying or looking away from. And I’m grateful.
I played the ‘what-if’ game about it all (I am the uncontested champion of this game), and no matter how I ran the scenarios through in my head, they did not turn out nearly as prettily as reality did. And so, I couldn’t be anything other than grateful. Grateful that it all happened, and grateful that it all went precisely the way that it did.
In the intervening weeks, dad’s done a lot of healing physically. I’d been more worried about his mental/emotional healing – when you discover the body’s ability to betray, you end up feeling whammied, and I was worried about how he’d handle the whammy. I shouldn’t have worried – I should have just trusted. Dad’s coping well – and he has a lot of time for introspection, since he’s in enforced low-activity for at least six weeks following the surgery.
I went over there this week to help them denude the house of all the Christmas hoopla, since pop can’t lift more than 5 to 10 pounds. And dad turns to me and says, “You still plan on taking me grocery shopping today?” And I, of course, said, “Absolutely!” when I was really thinking, “Hunh? Didn’t remember that…but okey dokey.”
I was probably the best one to bring – I let him have his way and do things his way…until he shouldn’t. I’m not shy about calling people out, and we all know it. So, I was the perfect policeman. We had a great talk the whole way there, and the whole time we were shopping.
And on the way home, the talk turned to how he was dealing with his recovery, and some of the things that were starting to glimmer in the murk for him. I mentioned that Dave (my brother) was probably having the hardest time with all of this. And dad, in typical understated fashion, said, “Well, he probably thought I was dying in his arms, so I suppose he would be.”
And I told him that wasn’t the reason. It was because when Dave was young, he hungered for my father’s attention (which for a variety of reasons, wasn’t available), and then when Dave got older, my dad hungered for more connection with his son…and now Dave is mulling all of it over, and wanting to deepen their relationship. But they’re both the stoic and stubborn products of our Austrian ancestry (which seems to cancel out the Irish in the worst possible ways…), and they don’t reach out well. So, I dropped my pebble into that still pond, and trusted that the ripples would wreak whatever changes to the shoreline that they were meant to – or not – and I let it go.
And then I turned to him and told him that I’d had a hard time with all of this, too, but not for the same reasons. I said that I just wasn’t ready to lose my father yet – I was greedy and wanted many more years together. He smiled. And I said that I felt like he and I were square, that we’d done all the reconnecting and that we had a good relationship, and that I didn’t have regrets – only the greedy desire for more of it. I asked him if he felt the same, and he smiled and said, “Yeah Carolyn, we’re good.”
I know how lucky I am to be able to have that conversation with my dad, and to know deeply that it’s true. I also know that I made my own luck there. I reached out to him in my typically tactless and blunt fashion when I was done being an angsty teen and told him I didn’t like the vibe we had and that I wanted more…and what I wanted it to look like. And then we built it.
In the course of our grocery shopping conversation/excursion, I told him that I regretted nothing about my life. It didn’t strike me until right now, that he’d looked at me kind of oddly, and said, “Really?” with the kind of incredulity that implies sincere and invested interest in the answer. No, dad, I regret nothing. Because all of it brought me here, made me who I am now in this moment. Even the worst stuff shaped me (and I’ve gone through some muddy and bloody trenches in my short life) – and is, perhaps, what I ended up being most grateful for since it affected the deepest and most lasting change.
I know he’s on his own road to reconciling his regrets and healing relationships. I know I can’t do it for him, and I wouldn’t if I could. All I can do is let him see me, and the way I’ve chosen to deal with life as a teacher, and rejoice that he still has the opportunity to choose to engage in it…or choose to let it fall away again.
It may appear that I am lackadaisical about all of this – I assure you I’m not. It’s more a matter of having put out the blaze, and looking at the smoldering foundation, and knowing that there’s both time and opportunity for the owner to build anew. And being grateful for it.