I never told you about hiking in Norway, falling in love with Aurland and Tone. Or about the week we spent exploring Tad’s Swedish heritage and the intense bonds developed there. Or that I began to teach. I never told you the story of how we found ourselves in India and how I threw down my heart in Varanasi and again in Macleod Ganj. Or how we lost both remaining pets and how that feels after 15 years. Or that we finally put our house on the market. I haven’t shared the revelations, love, confusion, heartbreak, exhaustion, connections, the LIFE that has been going on. All these many pieces of where I’ve been and who I am becoming. Much of it is recorded on the scrawled pages of blank books or buried in the folds of wrinkled skin, bedsheets and grey matter. These stories are still shifting, still being made – this recent past still struggling to be seen and understood. Which makes it that much harder to know where to begin. (Begin again. Just begin.)
On Sunday, I “finished” reading The NeverEnding Story by Michael Ende (the story of how I found it, who it’s tied to, what it means to me – another story, for another time). About mid-way through I closed the cover, my receipt from the used bookshop marking the page where these words appeared in green ink, my heart thumping as it often does when encountering a significant truth: “’A story can be new and yet tell about olden times. The past comes into existence with the story.’” I’ve been returning to these words again and again, as I knew I would in the moment my eyes traced them into my heart. So many meanings.
If I were to read a factual accounting of the events of my life, word for word, would it change my experience of it? The understanding of my history comes into existence with the stories I have told myself. And my past shifts as current events shape my perspective. The truth of the past always exists – the actual events, that is; but the way we frame it can change (if we allow ourselves that), just as the framing of the same events differs from person to person based on the perspective.
It’s only recently that the story of how I talked myself out of teaching has been written – and the associated events remembered. How much of that is fact and how much is still a distortion? How much of it was obscured and comes to light only because I can now look on it with love? The past can be a thing that I bend to my own purpose, hiding hard truths from myself, or it can shed new light on my life, showing me the way. Sometimes I use the stories to assign meaning and sometimes they seem full of meaning independent of my curation… Do as you wish, sometimes the wishes of the heart are deeply buried and hard to find. The stories help me see the wishes that have been there all along. I am no longer the confused child, wanting ever to please and ever to rebel. I am the one who knows the middle way (for the moment at least). I am the student. I am the teacher. It is so humbling, and so very RIGHT.
What a human thing, that the stories we tell ourselves shape our experience and our emotions. The olden times we tell about, this is our humanity. Our new stories about our old experiences. The past matters because of who it has created. The present matters because of how it shapes the past and who it IS creating. The snakes biting each other’s tails. Neverending and on it goes. I am bound to revisit my experiences, again and again, until I step in with a proclamation, a new name, a new perspective and a new story. I am bound to this, maybe, until I step into my Self. The past does not matter to this eternal piece of me. I have no stories at all, except the new one being created right now, and now and now and now.
If you have not read this book, I highly recommend it. Sometimes I feel that fantasy can address questions of consciousness and history and love more readily than other types of fiction, because these things can be so…Fantastic. I’ve never thought myself a story-teller. But clearly, in my own way for my own self, I am.
May I tell myself stories that contain Truth even as the details, circumstances, and perception shift. May I forgive the dark spaces that accompany the manipulations of my memories. May I step in when necessary, to begin the story again with more clarity, reshaping the past, the present and my future.
Are there any books that read like Truth to you? Or a story of your own life that you’ve begun to see differently?
Evolve. Ani D says “I’m trying to” – and I have loved the lyrics of that song for years – but mostly I’m thinking lately that the evolution is something that happens when I STOP trying. Stop trying so damn hard and wanting so damn much. I could tell you my stories (the ones I’ve fabricated and the ones that might have some actual truth to them), or most especially, the ones that began in the weeks before my mother died. But I think I can sum them all up in a word. Evolution.
When it becomes blood-red-stark-and-unmistakably clear that everything you have been doing does not matter – not in the way you thought, maybe even not at all – you have no other (or conscious) choice. This evolution comes in the quiet blink (or permanent close) of eyelids. When your vision returns, the old habits left behind take longer to rub away – and then it begins: When the only thing you are sure of is what is NOT worthwhile, then you have got to fill that void with something. (Eventually, you will come to look on this emptiness – though not necessarily the loss itself – as a painful but great gift). There will be many worthy pursuits ready to occupy your attention and ‘make up for lost time’… eventually, you will learn that no time spent is ever ‘lost’ and nothing can be forced. The immense power of your will alone is not enough if it is misguided. You will simply have to try, experiment, gently tug on threads and follow old paths. What you think about all this and most especially what you think may come of it are details that will only distract you from your hard-won heart-wisdom. The only certainty is the answer to this question of passion and purpose is circumstantial and it will change. (If there ever WERE an answer to begin with – I think there might be actually, cloaked in any number of broad or narrow possibilities) It’s possible that it will be buried under so many layers and memories that it pre-dates every single one of your all-important stories. It’s possible too, that the answer IS Evolve (or some combination of those letters), and that the only real and lasting contentment lies in the evolution itself.
I’m finding it hard to breathe today.
Skin cells on edge, tight ribcage, heart fish-flopping. I recognize this feeling now… It’s the fear that comes before a shift, before I step through the uncertainty and resistance into being in some slightly new way (or, maybe, some OLD way, some truer way).
This physical response – this is Fight or Flight, right? Or not. I prefer not to use the word “fight” here. It sounds too much like war, and I don’t like to apply terms of violence to my fear. Maybe it is appropriate in some way… Sometimes we have to be warriors in working with the Self… Or maybe (for me, for now) it’s more like Reason or Regress – these are not matters of life or death. But, there is still the fear. And even though it’s not a case of survival – my body remembers it’s animal habits and responds with sweaty palms telling me that here, there is something hard, something true and maybe, some opportunity.
Recognizing this feeling gives me a chance to be more conscious while I am in this space. I will engage with this discomfort. I will do what’s necessary for the shift to come. I won’t fight the fear, I won’t fight my head to allow my heart it’s chance to speak. I will hear it out, I will WAIT it out if necessary… and likely, I will recognize that there is not so much to be afraid of here after all. I will be courageously kind. I will carve out space and devote the time and energy to taking one tiny step (and another…) setting my own pace, trusting that I (still) don’t need to know the exact outcome.
The steps will get me there in time. The process is the important part.
-Because I’m not who I thought I was
-Because I am who I am, my dreams are still my dreams
-Because although I can’t quite explain how this works, I am more content and at peace than ever in my life (of course I still have rough days.)
-Because I am capable of so much more than I thought when I release my expectations.
Approximately one year ago, I began hitting my yoga mat each day – after a decade of occasional, sometimes and semi-consistent practice. I re-committed intending to give myself good tools to carry with me where-ever I go from here. I knew there would be some emotional work ahead of me, but I have to admit now that this practice and this process quickly went far deeper than I anticipated – or was ready for.
I thought I knew exactly what I was doing and what I hoped to gain. The Truth is, I had no idea. I have been strung up by my heels by this practice. Now, I can confess that the first 6 months were a bit of hell as every thing I’d worked so hard to shut down in the last decade came up to haunt me, and along with them, every single one of my failures, shortcomings and fears. I’m not entirely sure how I stuck with it (I don’t think I can take all the credit either – it seemed to have it’s own momentum. I know that might not make much sense.) There were days (many, many, many days) where I asked myself what the hell was I doing. And somehow the next morning, I would find myself back at it. This is hard and strange for me to write about because it sounds like a bit of a breakdown – not something a younger version of myself would have allowed – but maybe in a small way, it was…
I think the reasoning goes something like this. Once I know something, I can’t un-know it, I can only decide what I do with that knowledge. It makes me responsible. Once I tipped over that bucket and the contents started spilling out all over the floor, I couldn’t exactly just leave the dirty water and pretend like it hadn’t happened. I do think, in hindsight, that this is what always stalled my practice in the past. Something difficult came up, an emotional trigger was inadvertently hit in class or at home – I wasn’t ready, I squashed it and 5 months later woke up realizing that I felt like shit & hadn’t practiced in ages. This time around adding a writing practice took me deep into the heart of this discomfort pretty quickly, almost before I’d realized where I was headed. All of a sudden I was in way over my head. Oh shit. Here we go. Journal pages started filling up quickly with cramped, illegible scrawl, and I was a ball of emotions. Once I realized how much stuff had piled up that I had either not dealt with effectively or at all, I had a choice.
It’s a little embarrassing, you know? I always think everyone else has this figured out, but the more people I talk with, the more I think that’s not necessarily the case. We are good at avoiding discomfort. We are trained in this from an early age and we apply this tool to many things in our life, including our emotions. I got pretty damn good at it. I would be stuck on something for ages, because I would try to shrug it off (“Everything’s fine” Liar. “I have it so good, who am I to be so upset” True… But grief, anger, these things still naturally happen and still must be processed, no matter how lucky we are.) I couldn’t deal with the real issue – which was always more internal than external, and much more base than whatever was going on at the surface. The emotion I avoided was a symptom. The real deal with almost every one of these issues has been my underlying feelings of inadequacy, fear, my internal belief that I was not and would never be good enough. I didn’t even consciously know that I thought that about myself until I started digging around.
Ok, so why if this has all been so hard, WHY would anyone want to do this? Why have I spent so much time on it? (Why will I continue?) I sometimes have difficulty when people ask me how my practice has been or how I have liked my teacher training… People seem to give such happy positive reports of these things. Maybe I am just intense. I’ll take my intensity though, because I know it’s bringing me where I need to go. I would do it all again. I didn’t feel like I was suffering before. Life was “good”. But even though I know now that this is lifelong work, the attempt to be aware and mindful in each moment, the work of befriending myself – even though I’m sure there’s still more ugly stuff still to dig up – When I look back and compare – I feel so much more… Stable. Sane. More Myself. More Capable. More Hope for myself and the world. Even though I didn’t handle everything perfectly today, it doesn’t make me weak, a bad person or a lousy friend. It makes me HUMAN. And I’m somehow slowly learning to love that – the being human thing. It’s certainly more interesting than PERFECT, no?
I am also celebrating this because I believed that I wasn’t capable of real dedication or consistency (I have only to look at T and our 18 years to know that isn’t true). And because even though I know it isn’t true, it still scares me. Because as my teacher training winds down, I am hitting a bit of wall. I am writing to remind myself of why, and how (Be KIND. Take a rest when you need to. Write, and give yourself (myself) time. Consistency isn’t about perfection). I’ll try to sneak a couple quick posts in, but I may be a bit scarce for the next few weeks as I finish up my student teaching requirements and study for the exam. In the meantime, thanks for reading and take good care, I’ll see you soon!