Still Sewing Together These Remnants of Self

Tonight was my writing group’s holiday dinner. A mightily different crowd of people from my healing class, but a sweet and generous atmosphere all the same. I am the youngest in the group by a good twenty years, with the majority of the women already enjoying a well deserved retirement. There is talk of grandchildren and good therapists and the best female Episcopalian ministers, and, of course, books that change lives.

When asked about how my novel was going, I hesitated because, truth be told, fiction has taken a back seat to my healing work and my spiritual explorations and the words that I scatter here. For all my talk of integrating the self and walking around with a whole perspective, I suddenly found it difficult to marry my worlds.

There wasn’t the luxury of time or space to explain this whole other aspect of myself to a group of laughing ladies sipping champagne. They know me as the girl who writes stories about a painter of churches who struggles with his marriage and his faith. Smiling and nodding, they moved on to talk of waters more easily navigated, more updates on people they had known since their now grown children were small.

It certainly was not disinterest or rudeness that kept them from asking what sort of healing I do. I realized quickly, that for all their worldliness and their fascination with the human experience, energy healing was unfamiliar territory and required an introduction in a different setting. In the same spirit, to a group generally still wary of computers, mentioning that I kept a blog might not mean an awful lot.

Tonight was a valuable lesson for me in the art of carrying around a complete sense of self, but being alright with the fact that some people are tuned into smaller slices of who I am. To walk around constantly needing to flaunt my wholeness and announce myself as a writer and a healer and a spiritual seeker and a person with a library operations manager is just too much stuff – both for a business card and for polite conversation. All of those things are just details anyway – important details that describe how I spend my time, but details all the same that can never describe the true essence of who I am.

Still, I came home with a full belly and a slightly confused head. How will I sew the various remnants of my life together? It is one thing to know that it is not necessary for colleagues to understand the changes in my life – if they notice anything it might be that my rougher edges have been smoothed. But in a social situation, it is a little different to realize that it will be challenging to explain my shifts in priorities and talk about the things that truly matter to me.

I know that it will just take patience, and that I should not expect all of my revelations (understanding myself as a healer, as someone who communicates to people in a space like this) to take root in a week.

Isn’t one of the first lessons of writing “show, don’t tell“? When I walk through life wearing a cloak stitched with the wisdom I have gathered on my new path, I think I’ll find these worries will have flown with the moths that chewed up my old disguises.


A Smooth Landing Back in the “Real World”

When we stepped from the cozy den of our teacher’s home, with its great bellied wood stove and the incense flavoring the air, the coldest winter wind of the season tried to steal the breath from our throats. Naked trees shivered and swayed in the frosty air and the taste of December settled on our lips.

One of my classmates sighed and said, “Back to the real world.”

Buddha in the snow

I swear I spoke from a place of truth deep inside of me, and not from any false optimism when I replied, “But that was the real world.” I meant that though our three day healing artists’ class had been transformational and downright otherworldly, it had actually happened and it was part of the reality our group has been blessed enough to know on this earth.

This feeling carried me through to the moment, a little over twelve hours later, when I walked into my office and managed to still wear a gentle smile. My previous weekend-long classes had spat me into Monday mornings with a sense of dread and discombobulation. Meditation and healing work had nothing to do with balancing budgets and book shifting projects and I had felt lost between the two worlds.

Today, however, I was amazed by the blissful sense of integration that bore me through the day.  I had managed to bring the healer that I know myself to be through the doors of the workplace. At last, I felt a sense of wholeness that was almost always lacking when I sat down at my desk and interacted with colleagues.  I’d had enough of leading a life that was disconnected with itself.

It is time to stop believing that we are more than one person, that we can effectively slice ourselves up into little pieces and give our spirits to God, and our love to our families, and our practicality to our work. We are all complex, multifaceted creatures with our fingers dripping with all different colors of finger paint, but that rainbow is all unified by one hand, one arm, one being who dances in many different worlds.

I have been struggling with a sense of desperation because I felt like a fraud in every part of my life, especially as I tried to reconcile my professional/working self and my healer/writer/seeker self. No piece of me could get my full attention or dedication because I was so busy slicing myself up into discrete portions.

Many months ago, a dear friend counseled me that all of my worlds did have a sense of harmony and did make sense because they all had one essential element in common: ME.

Her wisdom did not take root in my heart until I walked through this workday and realized that my true self really was the fulcrum that balanced my two worlds.

I cannot manage people and projects if I do not come to everyone with an open heart and a belief in the interconnectedness of all beings. I cannot thrive as a writer and a healer if I do not use the organized, disciplined parts of my brain. My different identities have always colored the others in my closet of characters. The diversity of my experiences and abilities have always been a source of power for me, however untapped and unrecognized.

We all carry around an entire universe of possibility. How many of us have trouble finding the compatibility that truly does exists between the different corners of that universe? How much more powerful can we be if we stop drawing lines in the sand of our consciousness and embrace true integration?

What new forms of harmony and understanding might thrive in this world if we can first find a way to create such a sense of balance within?

At the End of the Day

At the end of the day, there is a great deal of mathematics to be done.

Did I cross enough off my to-do list? Did I treat everyone I encountered with respect? Did I eat foods that supported my body? Did I clean up the messes I caused and pitch in to help with those I did not? Did I write, practice yoga, meditate, give the cats enough attention?

During a writing workshop a couple of years ago I met an Irishwoman who is one of my wise women role models. She said, as I sought guidance in the months before my wedding, “at the end of the day all that matters is that you are together and in love.” When I can remember it, “at the end of day” is the phrase that helps me put things in perspective. At the end of the day, all that matters is that I cultivated love in all that I touched. Only when I am being too hard on myself does that nourishing phrase turn into a sort of edict about attainment and success.

While I think of the brief time I was able to tale in this wise, wise woman’s warmth, I continue to play with the idea of identity and how split ourselves into countless pieces so we can cover all of the bases. Another gem from this woman from Cork was about turning to “the woman at the head of the table,” the noble creature who keeps order over all of the other characters that make up the personality. One needn’t worry about being swept away by the part of herself that is too bossy or too conceited or too insecure when she can trust one woman to sit regally and keep everyone in check with a kind, firm hand. That woman at the head of the table, of course, is the finest expression of yourself, the one with the clarity and the discipline to show your best face to the world.

I love this image, and rely on it when I want to become the queen who can master her emotions and do what must be done – be it heading to work or writing another page. At the same time, I wonder if giving the different aspects of yourself a table to sit around and treating them like a bunch of crazy relations gives them too much power.

Depending on which tradition I want to ally myself with today, I can either look at this as a great technique for finding the most ideal part of myself or I look it as a way to perpetuate the false dramas of humanity. If this world is just an illusion, maya, adding extra players to my inner world hinders me from realizing Wisdom. How many mystics and Eastern teachers say that one enters true union with the Divine when she recognizes that possessions and creeds and personality traits are mere details?

I am left to wonder what to work on first – ordering the various pieces of my identity or trying to transcend everything that I believe defines my identity. Much of the time, I am marooned somewhere in the middle, feeding myself on a combination of pop psychology and mysticism. I guess this tension is part of what it means to be alive and seeking in the 21st century…

Wise Woman Working

When faced with the impossible problem of what I want to be when I grow up or who I want to be for the next twenty minutes I often panic at the multiplicity of options. Sometimes I am crushed when I realize that whatever path I choose will inevitably eliminate a host of other equally attractive, urgent possibilities. So often I become completely mired in all that I cannot do; I just freeze up and let the night dissolve into television for fear I might waste time chasing after the wrong star. I suppose this is one reason why many passionate people who really want to affect positive change end up being stymied by the weight of their own potential. The vastness of the universe, with all of its beauty and ugliness, is devastating in its scale and the abilities of one person seem laughably inconsequential.

Of all the causes that call to me but do not seem to fit into a single lifetime, I think I have finally distilled my raison d’être to one articulable goal: I want to be a wise, wise woman.

For some time I have been sitting behind my eyes, watching as I move through the world, keeping an inner score card. My awareness has been heightened and I surf from epiphany to epiphany, so often conscious of this phenomenal world with its limitless possibilities. But I constantly find myself forgetting all I know about the life of the soul and the love of the Divine and the power of healing. The epiphanies all turn to dust as I find it impossible to practice all that I know when I am confronted with another unenlightened day at work or a quiet night when I am too tired to think.

And so I am ready to introduce a second stage to all of this shouting about revelations: it is time for Wise Woman Working. The pursuit of wisdom seems a relentless one that takes dedication and conditioning. At the same time, I think there is a need to let the world pass through you and allow the knowledge to pool at your feet, but I think that certain groundwork must be laid first. All those books I have read, all the classes and seminars I have attended – their brilliance dulls and I just find myself becoming an enlightenment junkie dying for a new hit. Wise Woman Working is about practicing what I have heard preached and letting all those lessons marinate until they are not airy-fairy icing, but the real sustenance one can build a life upon. It is about living through these flashes of insight and distilling them to their essential stuff so that I can blossom into being that wise, wise woman who contributes something to this miraculous, fucked up world.

Because the Ego is a Fragile Thing I Have to Waste

I started blogging a year ago as a result of one of those allegedly profound conversations in which, yet again, I experienced the ultimate breakthrough and uncovered an enlightened new relationship with Self and the Divine, and pretty much the entire planet.

Wryly, I scoffed to my friend, “Listen to me! I’m the girl who cried epiphany! Why do you even listen to all this narcissistic drivel?” And so I started committing these thoughts to writing and explored a public voice.

Then I stopped posting because my obsession with whether anyone was reading seemed unhealthy, I started writing fiction again, and it didn’t seem that inspired spiritual progression should invite voyeurism. Now, six months later, I think I have found my way back to the original purpose of these pages – to name those little epiphanies, both pedestrian and profound, that inform and spice this business of living, and could, with a bit of attention and intention, lead to an expansion of consciousness.

This need to start writing here again came to me today while I sat through a conference of librarians. I had organized the event, yet sat at the periphery because I am not really one of them, but instead a creature who lacks the information science credentials, and, frankly, the interest to truly engage in the conversation. For two days, I had been trying to explain to the participants my role in the college library at which I work – I’m a professional with an assistant of my own and I do actual intellectual work when I am not worrying about caterers and janitors’ schedules, honest! When I took a moment to listen to myself I realized that the lady really did protest too much. I balked at the fragility of my ego, that I had to allude to the novel I am writing and my graduate work in Ireland and actually say “yeah, but I am not actually a secretary.” See, I even had to include my credentials here so that my readers will realize that I am not just some hack whining about her day job!

My difficulties with position and title have plagued me for years both in the professional and existential sense. I think I am finally in the place where I can admit the tyranny of this need to prove myself and the longing for a ready-made description of who I am. Of course, being able to recognize that this brittle shell of identity I feel compelled to defend and describe is light years from my true self is only the smallest of initial steps. Still, it was epiphany enough to stop and hear my story as it spiraled from my lips and realize that the tale I was telling had nothing to do with me.

After such silence, I certainly have not begun to fulfill the mission of what this blog was meant to do, but perhaps remembering the long, arduous process of self expression is revelation enough for one evening.

Beyond the Inconvenience of Changing Behavior & Changing the World

I am still preoccupied with the issue of global warming and the devastation we cause simply by being regular, average citizens of the western world, but I am ready to draw a more concrete parallel to this awakening and the overall quest for the True Self. Of course, the way we live upon this earth and the imprint that we leave upon creation is an inherently spiritual question in itself, so please forgive me if I get stuck here for a while.

In Entering the Castle Caroline Myss writes a great deal about a fear of humiliation as being the force that keeps us from embracing humility – the quiet, unselfconscious power that can open us to God. She asks her readers to go through these humiliations, from the minor interpersonal stuff that keeps us from changing our morning routine to the deep spiritual elements that affect the way we relate to the Divine. I am beginning to realize that one of the little humiliating situations that I would do anything to avoid is being derided for being too high-maintenance or difficult, for being deemed a chore to have around because I cannot just go with the flow. Of course, I fear a common element of groupthink, the tyranny of the majority that will do everything possible to keep all people at the lowest common denominator.

The food we choose to eat can expose us to a great deal of judgment and ridicule. As someone who is gluten intolerant, I have had more than enough conversations about my diet and my digestive system. Before I got serious about eliminating gluten, I was a relatively serious vegetarian, but once the menu’s meatless pasta choice became a half-remembered dream, I had to give up my anti-flesh convictions. If I planned ahead even more carefully and prepared to refuse even more offered sustenance (let us not forget the degree to which calories are the currency of friendship, love, and hospitality), I might be able to earn back my veggie stripes, but at least to this point, I have found that it is not worth the struggle.

There has been plenty of reporting dedicated to the impact our carnivorous diet has on the planet. Environment Magazine published the first story I ever read about the issue. Even that show I keep talking about, Six Degrees Could Change the World, discussed the amount of energy it takes to put a hamburger on an American plate. The issue is emerging as one that is larger than my own appetite or the annoyance of people who never know what to feed a picky eater like me (ah, those hostesses faces that have fallen to despair when I whisper weakly that soy sauce’s second ingredient is wheat!).

I bring up the issue because I recognize that one reason I do not change my diet is a little bit like my inability/refusal to see the Divine in all people and treat them accordingly. I don’t want to plague loved ones with either my wearisome food concerns or my new codes of honor. Already I am the woman who cannot eat a normal birthday cake and is forever caught up in spiritual pursuits, how can I start passing up pork chops at Sunday dinner and refuse to twist my wit in wicked directions to make friends laugh too? Of course, none of this is to say that I am either entirely virtuous (I liked the turkey and cilantro burgers my husband made for dinner last night and sometimes I am engulfed with a mean spiritedness that is entirely my own) or that I am completely ruled by others’ whims (I am a pretty strong willed person, but sometimes I abandon my principles in an often feeble attempt to be polite).

Some of the most overused words of this decade have got to be “convenient” and “inconvenient” – proof that Al Gore’s movie hit a home run into the modern cultural lexicon. It is time to stop throwing around inconvenience as just another buzz word, however, and realize the deep truth contained in the fact that we are creatures completely addicted to our convenient, disposable world. Changing our behaviors and facing the confused or hurt or laughing faces of our companions really is just a trifle when we talk about affecting the fate of the world or engendering more compassion in this world, but damn, it sure seems hard.

Yoga and Finding the True Self Beyond the Self

At the conclusion of yoga class last night my teacher said “Just remember, this is all you have to do to come back to your true self.” I felt a smile wrap itself over my lips as I heard her voice exactly what I had been trying to lose myself in order to find.

The practice of living has made my studio yoga attendance rather erratic. Time constraints but also the demands of the hermit aspects of my soul have caused me to become a more solitary yogini (with the help of Elsie and Hillary‘s podcasts). Somehow, I had almost begun to parallel my inability to find a place in an organized religion with my resistance to getting back to class. Both injuries and the discovery of the spiritual potential of my practice made me avoid the dictates of a teacher; I sought an unmediated relationship with the yoga muse and any resulting revelations.

Finally, last night, however, I got back to the yoga space that has been such a vital part of my life for four years.

I have always enjoyed this particular instructor’s classes even if I am often contemplating collapse halfway through (she sometimes tends toward the “ass kicking” style that Suzi at Yoga Like Salt mentions), so I was joyfully surprised that last night’s session was marked by long forward bends and a creative take on sun salutations that was more about deep lunges than constant movement through the Vinyasa. The fact that her class was exactly what I needed again showed me that I need to be open to the promise that the Universe will always send me guides and that everyone and everything can act as a teacher.

It had been a long week, and I arrived on my mat heavy with an exhaustion I had willingly invited to consume me. I knew deep down that focusing on my practice would energize me, but I was taking a skeptic’s stance on such a miracle: “ok, yoga, you think you are so magical, just try and wake up this sorry excuse for a body.”

The miracle on the mat settled over me despite my disbelief. Instead of fighting my way through a warrior pose sequence that set my quadriceps screaming, I remembered my own rhetoric and applied the wisdom I spend so much time studying. I allowed myself to realize that yoga truly is a moving meditation and an essential part of my spiritual practice, not just an alternative to the gym.

It became such that truly being present in a pose meant to forget that my arms were outstretched to the edges of my being and that my legs were the pillars connecting me to the earth. It meant that all thought and breath could fall away so that I could lean into a back bend and feel my inner vision clear to reveal a deep, sweet void full of everything and nothing, a space that was infinitely larger than the individual yet sized perfectly to hold me. In this forgetting of my body, I could find my truest home within myself and realize that my limbs were stretched to their truest expression and my breath had found its essential rhythm.

In reading James Martin’s Becoming Who You Are: Insights on the True Self from Thomas Merton and Other Saints I found voice for my worry that to cast off elements of the false self (the proclivities and neuroses and dramas that make me me) in the search of the True would leave me somehow bereft of personality. Finally in finding glints of bliss in surrender did I begin to understand “Our personalities are not eradicated as much as they are made fuller, more real, and finally more holy.”