"Stories can also function as Trojan Horses. The audience accepts the story because, for a human, a good story always seems like a gift. But the story is actually just a delivery system for the teller’s agenda. A story is a trick for sneaking a message into the fortified citadel of the human mind."
easy to peel (an A-Z poem)
do you remember the first time you were called annoying?
how your breath stopped short in your chest
the way the light drained from your eyes, though you knew your cheeks were ablaze
the way your throat tightened as you tried to form an argument that got lost on your tongue.
your eyes never left the floor that day.
you were 13.
you’re 20 now, and i still see the light fade from your eyes when you talk about your interests for “too long,”
apologies littering every other sentence,
words trailing off a cliff you haven’t jumped from in 7 years.
i could listen to you forever, though i know speaking for more than 3 uninterrupted minutes makes you anxious.
all i want you to know is that you deserve to be heard
for 3 minutes
for 10 minutes
for 2 hours
there will be people who cannot handle your grace, your beauty, your wisdom, your heart;
mostly because they can’t handle their own.
but you will never be
and have never been
"Everyone needs a platform of self-worth from which to see change. And what I think shame does, is sticks us in a hole that’s so deep and so dark that we can’t see out. And we can’t see that we are capapable of being anything, or doing anything, beyond being stuck in this very dark, deep place."
"Working rightly, the brain is the highest form of “instinctual wisdom.” Thus it should work like the homing instinct of pigeons and the formation of the fetus in the womb — without verbalizing the process or knowing “how” it does it. The self-conscious brain, like the self-conscious heart, is a disorder, and manifests itself in the acute feeling of separation between “I” and my experience. The brain can only assume its proper behavior when consciousness is doing what it is designed for: not writhing and whirling to get out of present experience, but being effortlessly aware of it."
magic / hate
Matthew, JR’s brother from out of town, is back for the holidays. He’s my father’s age. I don’t know much about him, just that when he’s here, he voluntarily wipes dishes, sometimes at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I wonder what kind of penance he’s paying in there. Whenever I see him he gives a solid hug, kisses me on the cheek, and says, “You’re magical.”
Joe came into the basement classroom after the New Year’s Eve party and wrestled my roommate. They pinned each other and grunted and bit, and I watched from the wall. When they finished, he sat on the floor with his legs crossed and said, “I thought about coming into the kitchen today and telling you that I hated you.”
"Me?" I asked. I hadn’t spoken much with Joe since he’d gotten here.
"Yeah. I thought about it but I didn’t do it. Obviously."
His hips were lifted and he was balancing on his hands. He arms shook and his lips quivered.
I crawled on the carpet a little closer, to face him. “Okay,” I said. “Do you want to talk about it?”
"I think it’s because I gave you that story, and it wasn’t a story at all, it’s exactly how I think, and now you know all this stuff about me and I know nothing about you, and you just sit there. And when I sat across from you at the table yesterday, I hated you."
My roommate, not looking up from her sketchbook, asked, “But why do you hate her?” and he looked over at her, maybe for confidence, or camaraderie, and continued.
I was tired. My stomach turned as I sat across from him, my heart facing his, my eyes meeting his. I told him why he hasn’t connected with me: because I haven’t let him. He wrote a beautiful story about visiting an old friend at an all-girls school, and the way his character looked at women scared me. I didn’t say that since I read it I’ve noticed him with women, and I see the flicker of interest in his eyes with nearly everyone, and a wildness there I’ve either never seen, or have seen and forgotten.
"I’m surprised you took that so well," he said. "I know you like that conscious communication thing."
I followed his eyes to where my roommate sat drawing.
"Right," I said. "Zane’s not a fan of it."
He sat next to me for a while, and I offered to show him some of my writing soon, if that might close the vulnerability gap. When I left for bed I hugged everyone goodnight, him included.
"I’m a human," I said. "I need love. I need to feel accepted and safe and loved."
Who knows who I was speaking to.
His face changed and there was an opening, but on the staircase I closed it up because I don’t want to let the animal in or out.
This morning Matthew hugged me hello and held my face and said, “You’re in a good place, I can tell.”
Isn’t it wild, what people see?
land and water metaphors
There are two conflicting philosophies about how to move in water.
The first: Go with the flow. Relax, float downstream. It’s not meant to be a struggle.
The second: Fight the current. Be a salmon.
When you’re caught in a rip current, you don’t swim against the current toward shore because you’ll exhaust yourself and risk drowning. Instead you float with the current and once you’re released, head back to shore. Or, you can swim parallel to the shore until you’ve escaped the current.
Salmon swim upstream to lay their eggs, and then, moments later, die.
It seems obvious that, given a choice, you would lean into whatever life gives you. But for a long time, I’ve viewed my brain’s patterns as a whirlpool, and I imagined myself walking against the current until I’ve neutralized it, even spun it in the other direction. Times like that, you’d want to fight the current.
But then, because I want to get this metaphor right, I think of the mind as a river instead. If it’s a river, you can’t reverse the current - you can swim against it and waste a ton of energy and then float, or you can float in the first place and save yourself the trouble.
How would you correct old habits if they are the river current instead of a whirlpool?
I guess that at some point, as your back scrapes against rocks, then hits a calm patch; as you hate the rocks and love the calm; get angry with yourself for not escaping the rocks, get proud of yourself for hitting a calm patch that had nothing to do with you, was not your victory so much as it is the river’s; at some point you let go of all the thoughts and feelings you have about the river. You haven’t reversed the current. You accept the current, and while your body floats along at the whim of the river, you are free.
Even if 1 million people walked upstream, and dammed up the current, the moment we rested, the water would flow from high to low again, downstream.
And yet, I still think there’s a time to fight. To break old habits and build new neural connections, which takes a lot of energy, sometimes.
Some days a land metaphor works better. If thought patterns are train tracks, you do your best to cover up the old ones that head to Self-Hateville, and dig new ones to take you to Self-Acceptanceberg.
Both places are actually the same, though, aren’t they? It’s just that in Self-Hateville you’re wearing a steel coat of armor and in Self-Acceptanceberg you’re naked.
The digging is really about learning how to get naked, then, isn’t it?
"As long as you have certain desires about how it ought to be, you can’t see how it is."
"Come out when you are ready. We all have different time, and timing. And to compare is to devalue."
"Love is that which gets you out of your head."
a new word
When my friend at Yogaville told me she’s gone to Codependents Anonymous meetings, I said, “I should go to one of those. Everyone should.” But I didn’t know exactly what the word meant then. I was curious, though, enough to pick up a book about it in the free boutique where everyone drops off their stuff before embarking on the next leg of their journey.
I brought the book back home, where it sat on my shelf until this week.
Last Saturday evening my dog was whimpering and acting off, so I went out to get him some baby aspirin. The girl at Rite Aid was kind and helpful. Her own dog had cancer and she stayed ten minutes after her shift to help me find what I needed. But my brain was elsewhere, and when I got home, and Sam took the pill hidden inside a block of cheese, and I sat in bed, and the night was silent, it screamed. My brain screamed. For days afterward it continued, and I was angry, really angry, because I’d been working so hard to make my mind my favorite place to be. It had softened, gotten kinder. And now, here were all my old habits. Fear, OCD, trying to predict and control the future…. Sam slept, drugged, and my mind split and shook.
A few days later I opened that book. And while I suspected that I, and lots of people I knew, were on the codependency spectrum, I found myself relating to nearly every item in the first chapter’s codependency checklist. Placing other people’s needs before your own. Having a hard time making decisions. Difficulty saying no. Caring a great deal what others think of you. Never before had this word come up and yet, codependency seems to be connected to most of the personal challenges I’ve been facing all my life.
The book is old and bland, so I moved my learning over to the Internet, where I found this excerpt from an article on the biology of codependency:
"Children who regularly experience high states of stress in their homes, say from living with emotional or physical abuse, addiction or mental illness, often learn that they can fend off trouble if they can stay hyper-focused on reading the other person’s emotional signals. These kids can become very adept at reading other people’s moods, often to the exclusion of their own. Because of this over time they may develop the emotional habit of being more in touch with what those around them are feeling than what they are feeling. They become habitually outer-focused, in other words, and may lose touch with what is going on inside of them."
So many of us have grown up with some form of abuse or illness in our families that it’s tempting to brush off our own as harmless. “Oh, sure, my brother was abusive, but it wasn’t that bad.” It’s especially tempting if you, like I do, know someone who suffered from serious physical or sexual abuse. I almost feel fortunate to have only suffered from emotional abuse. (And it wasn’t until last year, when I saw an incredible counselor, that I would even refer to it as abuse.) But I think there’s a balance between brushing it off as unimportant and dwelling on it, and that would be recognizing it and allowing yourself to work toward forgiving yourself and the person who abused you.
Growing up I learned to track my father’s moods. We lied about how much things cost. I underplayed my role in my moving violation tickets. I made jokes and watched to see if he’d laugh. I shared my emotions and watched his face blanken, or heard his voice rise, or ran into my room and slammed the door before he could come in and he’d pound on the door until I let him in because the longer I waited, the worse the punishment.
Now he’s softer. In my day-to-day life, he’s not a major player. But those patterns I developed are still here, and right now, they are calling the shots. And while I’m tired, and scared, and impatient, and frustrated, I’m ready to work.
It is easy to meditate when I’m feeling good. It is harder when it’s early in the morning, or I’m hungry, or when the enormity of the universe overwhelms me, or when I am in a state of doubt. But hardest, it seems, is meditating when my mind is obsessed, afraid, and small.
To extraordinary challenges. To monumental strength. To the mind-splitting discomfort that screams at us, It’s time to grow.