Musings on Spring

 

Last fall I felt guilty moving to Westfield, Indiana.

My health was deteriorating quickly, and a friend looked me in the eyes, about to give really good advice to someone like me who struggles with environmental illness.

“You need to move north.”

North meant the suburbs.  Moving north because the buildings are newer and have less mold meant that I have the privilege to do so.  And so I moved.

For several months, I asked the question, “Why Westfield?”

The answers did not come quickly.  In fact, the glimpses are still coming, more and more every day.

It took moving to the suburbs after 10 years of living in various cities (Chicago, Memphis & Indy), to realize how much of my identity was wrapped up in a negation.  I was a white person who didn’t live in the suburbs.

How our identities form is so extremely nuanced and complex.  It’s crazy how many beliefs take hold without even realizing it.

Well, now I live in the suburbs.  And after living here for 8 months, I’ve experienced culture shock, and also a love of the quiet, of parks that surround me.  It’s been a place of rest in the midst of starting my life over in terms of work, home, and faith community.

It’s been a place where re-imagining has taken place.

It’s been a place to take deep breaths.

It’s been a place to become a pedestrian again.

It’s been a place to dig into intentionality.

It’s been a place that has brought back beautiful place memories of my childhood.

It’s been a place to lean into the history of the land.  I live on the land taken from the Miami people, and “founded” by Quaker abolitionists.  I’m learning to feel that deep complexity in my body, and not run from the pain that surfaces.

I’ve been asking deep questions about my work.  About sustainability in a healing profession.  And I’m discovering that working with majority white students gives me a unique opportunity.  Together, we are developing a language and a conversation around limitations, which to me, seems more and more central to our liberation.

I’m learning how to provide a safe space for my students to come into contact with their own resistance with reading, with writing, with their learning difference.  Being a dyslexia and autism tutor is just a container for students to fail in a safe way, and together we build this stamina that failure does not define them, that it’s okay to take risks, that they don’t have to lean into their perfectionism.  That what makes my students so amazing is that they are learning to hold their weaknesses lightly.  They can mess up & laugh about it.

And as a recovering perfectionist, I learn from them every day!

In order for me to hold that space, I’ve needed to dig into my own healing, even deeper.  My work is lovely, and it can wear me out.

I’ve leaned into my qigong practice, my breathwork practice, my writing, finishing out EMDR with my therapist.  I’ve leaned into new friendships and old ones.  I fall away from my practices, and then need to come back to them.

As summer arrived suddenly in Indiana, I found myself reacting viscerally to all kinds of allergies.  I quickly felt very overcommitted and ungrounded.

Spring was a season of deep growth & transformation–and I entered into early summer enthusiastically, yet in doing a lot of outward work, and neglecting my spiritual practices.  I needed to return to my breath & to the earth, where Spirit is so present, if I would just pay attention and bring intention.

Spring brought about some deep “yeses.”  As I spent time at my computer working almost the whole day Saturday, I also was able to reflect on the year, as I sent next year’s calendar to my families.

My business survived the first year!  And I made money!

I joined the Episcopal church, 8 minutes from my apartment.  It’s environmentally friendly to my allergies.  The sanctuary is all tile!  There’s other reasons for joining, that I’ve already written about.  And I’ve joined the anti-racism team.  I will soon be trained to be a Lay Eucharistic Minister, serving communion to those who cannot leave their home.  As someone who has been confined to my bed, there’s no greater gift, than to find a reciprocal way to give back to those who have visited me.

I committed to finishing up my second year of spiritual direction training.  Who knows where this will lead, but I’m excited and the timing is right!

As I’ve said yes to my spiritual practice of qigong, my energy reserve just continues to build in my body, to the point where my food allergies are starting to disappear.  I’m no longer needing most of my medication.  I’m healing in deep ways every single day.  I had no idea this was possible, even though several people told me it was–I was just too skeptical to believe it at the time.

I helped to create a resource list for chronic fatigue advocacy in Indiana, and am learning to dive into conversations about the need for awareness and funding around chronic illness AND also ground inward and know that true healing is always inward, that no one doctor is the “savior.”  Validation is important, and healing from the trauma around not being believed even more important.

Spring has brought a deep yes, to be in contact with the Westfield police department about the over-policing I have witnessed working at the library, as students of color would walk over from the middle school and high school.

Spring has brought a school shooting 13 minutes from my home.  It’s meant texting my families who live in Noblesville, and checking in to make sure they are okay.  It’s been watching middle school students in a very conservative county protest the gun shop that opened that day after a school shooting in their hometown, and say, “Yes, this!”

Spring means walking to the tiny farmer’s market, and smiling.  It means talking to local business owners and sensing a spirit of camaraderie, not competition.  It means talking to the local bee farmer about honey & allergies, and how bees raise the vibration of the planet.  It means to committing to visit the bee farm, to draw closer to the Earth in my own vicinity.

As we draw near to the Summer Solstice, may there be abundance.  May their be joy and rootedness and hope.  May nature teach us about patience.  For everything there is a time.

 

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Pausing to Remember

This upcoming weekend I will remember that 3 years ago I was assaulted by a female doctor in the greater Indy community.

I’ve been gentle with myself as I know that the anniversary is marked in my body in some way.  I’m not engaging in reliving the trauma, yet I will simply make space to acknowledge it.  I’m hanging out with a dear friend on Saturday, which helps a great deal.

I’m writing to acknowledge my own power, my own agency, and all the healing that has occurred.

When I wrote about my story last summer, (see Post #1Post #2Post #3Post #4), the Larry Nassar case was gaining traction, yet was not headline news.  He had not yet been charged with any crime.  The brave women’s impact statements were not readily available.  I wrote following my body’s intuition, that the time was right to share my story.  I felt stuck; and I wanted to tell the truth.

Yet, I was following the Nassar story, and these women were given me courage.  Our stories were all too similar.  And I knew that my own healing meant speaking up.  Speaking up knowing that nothing judicially may come of the situation.  But I knew that my silence was eating me up inside; the shame from being publicly quiet was harming me, and I didn’t deserve to be harmed anymore.  And so I spoke up.

Of course speaking up means that I’ve gotten a lot of questions.  Whether it’s, “Why don’t you publish her name?” or “What kind of doctor was she really?” or “Are you sure that’s what really happened?”

Of course speaking up means that there’s plenty who have decided not to believe me.  There’s also numerous people who do; and for that I’m deeply grateful.

Of course speaking up has meant entering into a more complex situation.  The pressure to keep quiet is strong.  The pressure not to critique the medical profession, even stronger.

Several months ago, a friend asked me, “Why speak up when you are pretty sure that you won’t be taken seriously?”  It’s a good question.  One I’ve thought a lot about.  It’s ultimately about my healing & me believing myself.  Believing my story and what I know to be true.  It’s about trusting my intuition and believing that my body knows how to heal.  Voicing my truth is a huge part of healing.

When I formally reported her to the medical board this past December, there was this sense of closure.  I had done my part.  I couldn’t control the rest.  She is still a practicing doctor in the Indy area, and I still drive past her office 4 times per week.

Most mornings I simply pray, “I hope nothing bad happens in that office today.” Sometimes I just scream in my car, letting that excess energy find expression.

I write this in gratitude of the numerous people who have helped me heal, through conversations over coffee, texts I received after reading my blog, healers who listened, took me seriously, and who have taught me how to feel safe both in my own body, and in healing spaces in general again.

Because I no longer participate in yoga classes and have flashbacks or be on constant alert in healing spaces or question the motives of women in authority.  This healing wasn’t instantaneous.  I have experienced healing because dozens of people created safe space for me–and left room for me to come home to my body, to myself.  Created room for anger and tears and fear to be witnessed.  Created enough space so I could sit with a female therapist again and process all the varying and interconnected ways, I have experienced powerlessness, to feel the anxiety in my body, to tell a story that was once jumbled, and now can be told in a linear fashion.

To let go and still be in control—the paradox in therapy that I learned again and again as I plumbed the depths of my story, in the room of a female healer that I had learned to trust.  That I respect deeply.

I am here today in a really good place.  A place full of gratitude-not for what happened to me-but for living into the reality of how much healing truly is possible.

Health & Ancestry

 

This past Easter weekend, when at my parents’ home, I took some time to look through a book, detailing the Storrs’ ancestry.  As I flipped through its contents reading name after name–some themes began to emerge.

Doctors.  Lawyers.  Clergy.  Yale.

I saw the status that comes with these roles, the “rulers” of society.  There was no mention of the land they took, or the indigenous peoples they colonized or killed with their diseases.  No longer mentioning their names.  With their power, they got to tell the story, and leave out their shadow, what put them in a monstrous light.

I wonder if my ancestors wondered about how their domination would affect their ancestors.  Did they even question how their lifestyle, their beliefs and practices was affecting them?

As I flipped through a multi-hundred page book, I didn’t see many healers mentioned.  There were a select few who held anti-slavery views and aligned their life with their beliefs.

Richard Salter Storrs, Charles Backus Storrs, George Storrs.

One woman in particular caught my attention: Lucinda Howe Storrs.

She was described as having a rare strength and tenderness, keeping a detailed diary, and attending to the concerns of the soul.  Maybe what we would call a mystic today.

I’m glad I know a few names of people in my lineage who had the courage to say, “This isn’t right.  We must be in this world in a new way, even though we carry with us this history of oppression.  And we must carry our spirituality with us into this work.”

And yet, I have the drivenness and perfectionism and domination in my body of my ancestors.  And I have this strong intuitive part of myself that has felt this dissonance, as I have sought to wander my way into the truth.

I wonder if ancestral trauma plays a considerable role in my chronic illness.  Because my healing journey isn’t just about me–it’s about the effects on other people because I’m healing.  It’s about strongly saying, “The dysfunction stops here.  The silence.  The lies.  The lop-sided incorrect view of history.  The ending where white people always win.”

During my breath work practice over the past several months, this strong, yet simple message has come through: “You are here to heal.  Healing yourself is also about healing your family line.”

To be honest, I don’t really know what this means.  And yet I’m learning that I don’t need to.  Showing up to myself, to my practice, to people–this is all I need to know.

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As a sensitive person, my body reacts strongly to the changing of the seasons.  This has always been true–I’m just now tuning into this.  As the warmer weather made known that it was here to stay in Indiana, this message came too: “It’s time to slow down and write.”

It’s time to stop worrying and wondering how all the pieces are going to come together and just live.  To be in touch with my longings and desires and live out of these-no matter how that looks each day.

It’s time for me to lean more deeply into natural law and the symbolism of nature.  Summer is abundance!

For so many years summer has felt like deprivation.  But summer gives greatly.  Part of healing is healing my relationship with nature.

So this summer, I am going to receive in abundance.

The sun.  The beach. Parks.  The flowers.  Rest.  Naps.  Books.  Sunsets.  Concerts in the park. Sitting by the apartment pool.  Getting in the pool and swimming.  Friends. Walks.  Wine tasting.  BBQ.

There is such a strong perfectionism in my DNA, that I must rest.

As I dig into my ancestral roots, I’m discovering deeper purposes for my illness.  I needed to wake up to this deeper work.  As a highly driven perfectionist, I needed something as severe as my illness to wake me up.  To stop and rest.  A chance to breathe deeply and learn to come home to myself.

To understand where my impulses come from.  To tap back into my deeply spiritual nature that doesn’t need an organization structure to fuel it.  To realize that at my essence, I am worthy-and I express this worthiness best in the world by being a healer and a writer.

Instead of just viewing my illness as a curse, and needing to fix it, I’m seeing glimpses of its greater purpose.

And I know deeply in my body that my healing is for myself and for everyone else.

I didn’t use to believe this.  I had internalized that my self-care was selfish, that my healing journey was navel-gazing, that it was just another stint of my perfectionism.

I had never before considered that at my core, I am a healer-and in order to be one, I needed to focus on my own.  And by engaging this process, I am actually stepping into who I really am.

That this process was quite literally saving my life.  Because I was and am coming home to myself.

Surely, many of my ancestors did not want to be doctors, lawyers & clergy.  Surely something ached in many of them for something more (although nothing is inherently bad about these professions!).  Surely clinging to all that power and ignoring their shadow, wiping out entire peoples & stories, cultures, and rituals, while they “started” a country with “law and order.”

That psychological heaviness is deep.  And I’m sure it weighed on generation after generation.  And it weighs on me.

Maybe I needed to go through an intense powerlessness of chronic illness to know that in giving up power is where I find life.  That in mutual friendships, I find delight.  That there’s something mysterious at play.  That joy and sadness can co-exist and must for the creativity to surface.

Healing starts with me–in all of my privilege, in all of my pain.  I will keep on healing.

My Thoughts Before Confirmation

My new hair cut also feels like a parallel to joining the Episcopal Church. A new step into embracing the both/and of life.  Tomorrow I will be confirmed & I wanted to share some thoughts.

Part of the reason I am joining the Episcopal Church is that it is affirming of women and LGBTQIA identities.  It feels like a place where I could more fully step into my gifts, and encourage my wholeness.  I am part of a parish, that recognizes that racism must be condemned in all its forms, and there is dialogue happening.

Part of the reason I am joining the Episcopal Church is ancestral.  My ancestors from my dad’s side came to America in the 1600’s and settled in Connecticut and Massachusetts, some with the congregational church, some with the Church of England.  I both resonate with the solitude that the Episcopal church enacts (and in this way I feel like I connect to my ancestors) & to not do the deep work of lamenting colonization, stripping the indigenous peoples of their land and culture feels like a spiritual bypass for me.

Part of the reason I am joining the Episcopal church is accountability.  I could easily become a Buddhist, for so much of my being resonates with the deeply contemplative aspects of Buddhism.  If I made that decision, it wouldn’t be bad or wrong.  However, there would be a disconnect for me when it comes to ancestral healing-when it comes to healing from the shame of being white, of having ancestors that were colonizers & slave-holders, and had religious reasons for these actions.  To heal from this ancestral trauma and pain, it intuitively feels right for me to be in a similar tradition.  To be able to appreciate and critique/challenge is a both/and I know that I must be able to lean into.

Part of the reason I am joining the Episcopal church, particular to the Diocese of Indianapolis, is that I am saying a wholehearted “yes” to being under the leadership of a black female bishop.  I didn’t know if I was going to join the Episcopal church, until the bishop visited my parish in February.  The wisdom, strength, passion & love of Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows inspires me.

Part of the reason I am joining the Episcopal church is that I still have a lot of questions.  And I must live into these questions, continuing to accept myself, and seeing how this acceptance of self translates into dignifying friendship and service.

My body & intuition have played a much bigger role  in this decision for me than my mind.  I did attend an Inquirier’s class & had to do a lot of reading!  But it’s more about intuitively knowing that I must lean into the tension of both/and.  To say yes, and commit to a beautiful & yet flawed institution, with my doubts and questions.  To be one of the few young, unmarried persons in a suburban parish.  To maybe have the courage to start something new.  To enter into formal prayers that I may or may not believe wholeheartedly.  To say yes to helping and paying attention to the sick, to the older members of the congregation.  To bridge relationships across age.  To not need to know how everything fits together. All will be well.

 

Photo by Michael D Beckwith on Unsplash

My New Look

So last week, I got my hair cut.  Well, I should say that the right side of my head got shaved, and the left side of my hair just got a quick trim.

I was nervous, but it took 20 minutes and then it was over.  I looked in the mirror & absolutely loved it.

A friend who regularly asks me deeper questions, saw me this past week and truly wanted to know why I cut my hair.

I gave a simple answer like, “It was just time.  I wanted something different.”

Which is true.  And yet, something much deeper is also going on inside me.  So I’m seeking to revisit her question and to find words for this deeper place.

My hair is an outward sign of what it feels like on the inside, a deeper coming home to myself.  A deeper acceptance of my sexuality, an expansion of my curiosity, the capacity to hold deep nuance within my body.

My hair right now is also a symbol of learning to have more capacity to hold onto what is good about the old, and know that the new is exciting and it also means starting over.  I’m not the same person I was a month ago, even a day ago, yet I must not neglect my past either.  I must have deep compassion and love for all of me–at all times of my life.

Shaving my head is a lot about letting go–of the scripts I was told to follow, of who I was told I was, of my deep & cyclical self-doubt and questioning, of just listening to my head, to the neglect of my heart & body.  Shaving my head is about imagining something new.

Keeping some of my hair is about deep self-love, for choosing not to just throw my past away, but know that it has shaped me in deep ways.  It reminds me of all the times, I have cut my hair short, then let it grow out.  But the length it is now has always been my favorite.

In the present, having long hair and short hair, encourages me to see both/and.  Our stories, individual and collective, are complex, nuanced & beautiful.  Our thinking brain likes to separate into good/bad, facts & data & analysis.  Yet if our intuition spoke, if our bodies spoke more loudly than our minds and we listened, we would speak in narrative much more often.  First remembering our own.  That we are darkness & light, maybe even perhaps not so stark.  Maybe a room at dusk, with the sun setting, yet still shining in.

Maybe in witnessing our own in-between-ness, we will see this in others & show up in all our conviction, passion, empathy & groundedness and listen.

My hair is helping me witness my own in-between-ness, my own parts of myself that I can’t quite put into words.  Because mystery is a large part of this whole dance too.

At the Intersections of Asexuality, Chronic Illness, & Spirituality, Part 3

 

It was during the worst bout of my illness–that as I thought of my future, not only was it not as clear, but I had this intuitive sense, that a traditional family structure may not be for me.

Like I said, I knew that I wouldn’t become a nun, yet I would have the capacity to live out my life in that way.  But I did gravitate towards mystical writing & prose, and felt at home.  I could go inward and connect to the Divine deeply.

I wondered that as I healed if my vision for the future would change.  I felt this subtle societal pressure that as I healed, that my work needed to look a certain way and so should my relationships.  I had time to ask myself, “Where is that coming from?”

In my illness, I already had experienced middle class white people become very uncomfortable when I said that I was unemployed, and I was taking care of myself full-time.  98% of people had no idea what to do with that answer.  The next question I received was, “So what do you do with all the time you have?”–like they were jealous that I had all the time in the world.  (BTW, having able-bodied people be jealous of your sickness & “all the time you have” is a very uncomfortable situation!)

Without the systemic language at the time–I experienced people not treating me as well because of my lack of employment, that I wasn’t “productive enough.”  Living in a culture where identity is so wrapped up in work, I had internalized this too.  This is what capitalism does.  It makes human-doings, and not human beings.

After I found my second functional medicine doctor, and started healing–I was questioning my sexuality, and yet a necessary biological piece had to fall into place for me–before I could let myself accept the term asexual.

I needed my hormone levels to be in range–so that I could really be sure.  I need to be a little less clouded in my questioning and my wondering.

Throughout my illness, I’d gotten my thyroid tested, along with estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone for so many years that it was hard to really discern, “Is the lack of sexual attraction to do with my illness or is it really just my orientation?”

I remember the day I got my lab work back, and my thyroid levels were in range for the first time probably since my early teenage years.

Although I didn’t tell other people for quite some time, I whispered to myself,

“I’m an asexual.”

So much relief came from saying this out loud.  I didn’t really know how to accept this part of myself, but I wanted to, and that was the important part.

Post-EMDR

 

I finished this intense period of therapy last week.  After 2 introduction sessions, I started into EMDR.  The whole session was just talking about memories, about sensations, emotions, negative thoughts.  After awhile, I could track, even while I was speaking, how someone with my nature, is particularly prone to trauma and how trauma is experienced.

EMDR taught me so much about my sensitive, empathic nature.  How I could feel someone’s sadness or pain, almost deeper than he/she/they could?  How could I feel the energy in an environment and have it affect my energy levels?  How come grief seems to lodge in my body in the way it does?

As I went into these sessions, and my eyes went back and forth across the light bar thousands of times, I came to more fully appreciate my sensitive nature, this deep and unique part of myself.  The more my trauma cleared, the more I could see myself, this very strong, compassionate, empathic woman, for who I really am.

I came to understand how I’ve functioned in relationships that hasn’t served my best interest.  How I must understand serving others in a more nuanced way, because companioning someone in challenges comes naturally to me.  It is not a difficult task for me to try and see the world from another perspective.

So, as I kept going back to therapy, we worked on feeling more grounded, in my gut or sacral chakra.  I wanted to feel grounded in my intuition, not always second-guessing myself.  I wanted to couple my compassion with strength.

I wanted to know if I could sustain myself in a helping profession.  As the trauma cleared, I had more energy in my body to go towards my self-care instead of protecting my pain.  So, I found powerful healing practices that seemed to work with my energy–including meditation, breath work and qigong.

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A deep question that I didn’t realize I was asking until mid-way through therapy was, “Why has the Western Christian church emphasized service (and usually the service of women) at the expense of knowing oneself?”  And how have I been hurt by this reversal?”

I learned early on not to question authority.  They were always right.  Being a “sinner” was emphasized to such a degree that my lifetime of service of God really was a payback–and I was supposed to do this with joy.

Never did we talk about how serving could be a way of avoiding one’s pain.  Never did we talk about sensitive individuals and the propensity for burn-out and the martyrdom mentality.  Never did we talk about why women were encouraged to serve more than men.

There was a lot packed into my formative years and who I was “supposed to” be.  Wanting to please, I did everything I could, until I burned out, quit my job, and found out that I had an autoimmune disease that was running my life.  It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that I did this in the name of God.

But I couldn’t do it anymore.  And so, the last 4 years, have been a deep unraveling.  Of knowing the Divine and myself and those around me.  Of accepting myself and my unique nature and letting that inform how I show up in the world, grounded and compassionate.

Yet, more than an unraveling is happening.  I’m reconstructing my life.  I’m now on solid, yet unknown ground, and that feels as it should be.

I say no a lot more.  I don’t sign up for things just because.  I want my outer life to reflect my inner life.  I’m no longer frantic, searching desperately for meaning.  Now, I can stand in one place, knowing that I can find meaning anywhere.

And I let myself feel that deep joy.  Because when deep internalized trauma no longer clouds my vision, I can finally see what is.  And what is, is a very beautiful gift.

 

Photo by Martin Sanchez on Unsplash

Chronic Illness, Asexuality & Spirituality cont.

 

It took me awhile to come out as an asexual.  Couple a Christian, conservative upbringing where the options really are only gay or straight, and gay=bad and a chronic illness.

As my health started to improve, I started to do some deeper questioning, research and I found AVEN.  After several days of perusing the website here and there, claiming the label asexual just felt right to me.  It made sense and I felt a little more at ease.

I told a few individual people about my asexuality and that was helpful, but in general I was not open about it because in general I am straight-passing, and with that comes a lot of assumptions can just be maintained.  I had to recognize how deeply I identify with the privilege that straightness provides.  I also just wasn’t ready yet.

Yet, as I started the New Year as delved more deeply into breath work and writing, as well as new friendships and healing practices emerging in my life, I knew that I was hiding a deep, vital part of myself that ultimately wasn’t that healthy for me.

That for me, for speak more freely about being an asexual would lead to greater wholeness.  That to write about asexuality would allow me to reveal a huge aspect of my life, and speak to a part of my identity that could easily be overlooked or misunderstood.

Again my illness, asexuality, and spirituality intersect and inform one another in beautiful ways.

Without my chronic illness, I would not have slowed down.  Most likely, I would have kept pressing harder and harder, without much reflection, conforming to gain others’ acceptance.  I probably would have been successful, yet extremely hollow inside.  I would have traded in substance for superficial acceptance.

Slowing down actually was an avenue for exploring, for creating a new normal.  Of course sometimes this new life caused so much grief, and I was wondering about what I was missing out on.  Yet on some days, I actually adored the silence.  During those seasons of unemployment, time would slowly go by, but I would go on a walk, go grocery shopping, make meals, shower, and read.  I made it my goal to meaningfully interact with at least one person a day, either in person or on the phone.  Yet on some days, I wouldn’t really talk to anyone all day.  There was a unique loneliness to that season and yet, I was learning to sink deeply into myself.  I could keep myself company; and some days I preferred it.

A new spiritual ground was being laid for me, and I didn’t even know it.  I relished rest, gentle exercise, steady friendship, lighting a candle.  My prayer life was simple, short phrases like “Help me.”  “I’m tired again” or “I hope today is better than yesterday.”  I was especially aware that without gratitude,  I would shrivel up.  My journals from this time highlight a list of 10 things I was grateful for each day, that I would fill out before I went to bed.

I had a new awareness of life; it was like I was becoming a child again.  I paid attention to everything: the pace at which people walked, if they made eye contact, if they actually enjoyed the food they were eating.  I was grateful for the air, the flannel sheets, being able to stand up in the shower without getting tired.  Today, I look at those journals and weep in gladness–for my illness and my re-emerging gratitude for life–absolutely saved my life.

During this time, was also the first time I read Kathleen Norris.  I absolutely loved her.  I read Acedia & Me during Lent, and I relished her description of the monastic world.  I let myself wonder why I resonated so deeply with silence and contemplation. And also during this time I  told myself, “I could be single in this life, meet all of my own needs, and be happy.”  (I don’t think it’s ironic that I said this when I was deeply sick either…)  After Acedia & Me, I read Amazing Grace–and I said, “I don’t want to be a nun–but why do I think that I could be?

Side note: Celibacy & asexuality are not the same thing!  Asexuality simply means that the experience of sexual attraction does not exist, where celibacy is a choice.

Yet, my longings were surfacing for a deep liturgy, a spiritual experience marked by contemplation in community.  As I started reading some of the white female contemplatives of the medieval church, I noticed a correlation between their spiritual practice and most of them had chronic illnesses.  Their work deeply resonated with me.  I had found some companions on this inner journey of solitude, and reckoning with what my longings actually were.

 

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

 

Dads & Their Sons: A Micro Look Into Parkland, March for Our Lives, & Toxic Masculinity

I had two profoundly opposite experiences watching white dads and their white sons last week.  They both stuck with me; for in both the healthy and the unhealthy there are lessons to learn.

One father told me about how his son befriended a boy at swimming practice who is going through a rough time.  I could tell that he was touched by his son’s emotional sensitivity that tears welled up in his eyes in the middle of the library.  He didn’t apologize that he was crying.  He was proud, and he was glad that his son, learning to work through his own limitations, sees situations where others need to feel accepted and included.

Another father interrupted my lesson with his son, in order to place a brand new MacBook Pro in front of him, and said to me, “This is here, just in case he needs a little more motivation.”  His son got a huge smile on his face, and immediately said, “Can we finish our lesson early today?” to which my immediate response was, “No.”

These situations happened less than 24 hours apart and both captured my attention.  I asked myself,

“What are these boys learning from their fathers about what it means to be a man?”

“What are these boys learning about their emotional life, their friendships, their perseverance, their limitations, and their need to fail?”

“How much space is given to these boys to question, to explore, to figure out who they are?  How much space is given to them to disagree with their parents and see the world differently?”

“What are these boys learning about how to treat women, especially women in authority?”

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I read this article, speaking to gun laws, mental health treatment–and also the privilege of white cisgender men, and the trajectory of violence that is accepted in our culture.

I resonated deeply with this article, because although I do carry strong stances on both gun control and mental health availability and treatment–I do see white boys who are coddled and see deep ruts of entitlement.  I see a lack of resilience and perseverance in challenges; a lack of responsibility in comparison to their female peers across race.

I’m learning to name what I see even in early elementary boys; and to show up in a way that challenges them to notice and name their emotions, to try and articulate how “negative” emotions show up in the body, to give mindfulness tools to being present, even amidst unwelcome emotions or difficulty.  I encourage their natural interests and innate gifting; which often presents itself as artistic, which, depending on their background and home life, they have already internalized as “too gay.”

While I’m learning how to describe power dynamics to young white boys, I do say things like, “You don’t have to become a businessman like your dad.”  “You can give space for other people to make the rules.”  “You can embrace who you really are, even if that looks different than what your family expects.”  I teach about the power of limitation, and the beautiful lessons that our weakness give us, if we are willing to learn.  I share personal stories about how I wish I was able to ask for help confidently at a younger age.  How our goal should not be to become independent, but interdependent and in accountable relationships in which we are known and loved.

Now this doesn’t make sense yet, to some of my students.  And at the same time, students are teaching us right now.  Naomi Wadler is not letting her age limit her influence.  She sees the disparities in the world and she is saying, “Enough!”  She knows that women of color are marginalized, having to fight to heard, and more often that not being dismissed and ignored.  When this is reality, aren’t we doing a disservice to the young white cisgender boys when we continue to perpetuate their illusion–and yet if we white people are honest, one that we helped to create?

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These two dads have very different comfort levels with failure and struggle-and are instilling different values and lessons into their sons.  I’ve watched this dynamic from afar for a year now.  Of course, neither of them are perfect; none of us are.

And yet, it takes a village, and I’m learning to engage in these relationships more effectively, with more courage and strength.  To say what needs to be said.  To push my students in love, and talk about why being able to linger with difficult emotions is so important.  To teach them about process–and not just conquering and progress.  To go against culture and teach them about waiting and delayed gratification, and that everyone doesn’t exist just to serve them.  To still relay that they are valuable, and yet need not always be the center of attention. To celebrate their successes and yet let them know that the lessons that they carry with them, are not just to climb the corporate ladder.

March has been a long month to be a a teacher and a tutor.  I come into Holy Week tired, in need of rest.  Yet as I watched the videos of Emma Gonzalez, Naomi Wadler, D’Angelo McDade and more I know that I too have my role.

We are all connected.  I continue to learn more and more about how me being white has estranged me from my ancestors, rituals and meaning.  It’s clouded the way I see the world.  White supremacy, lodged in my body is a piece of what makes me tentative and ashamed.  Yet, as I keep waking up to this reality, I must help my white students see a bigger picture of the world, connect with people who are not like them, and celebrate the beautiful difference that exists in this world.

May the truth continue to make us all free.

 

 

Photo by Jose Alonso on Unsplash

Arrogance or Bravery?

While sitting in meditation last week, I thought of this David Whyte poem.  It was meditation, and so I let the thought go, but then it came back to me later that day.

Sweet Darkness

When your eyes are tired

the world is tired also.

When your vision has gone

no part of the world can find you.

Time to go into the dark

where the night has eyes

to recognize its own.

There you can be sure

you are not beyond love.

The dark will be your womb

tonight.

The night will give you a horizon 

further than you can see.

You must learn one thing.

The world was made to be free in.

Give up all the other worlds

except the one to which you belong.

Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet

confinement of your aloneness

to learn

anything or anyone 

that does not bring you alive

is too small for you.

What struck me is that on a surface level, this poem can seem quite arrogant.  It’s a poem of struggle, retreating into solitude, and realizing that you should only spend time around people that make you come alive.  (Does that make someone smart or extremely avoidant?!)

Upon deeper investigation though, this poem is about letting go.  Being alone in the quiet and seeing what’s left.  It’s about figuring out who you are, when you are willing to rip away all the masks.  It’s about knowing you are deeply loved.  It’s about learning to befriend yourself; and to stay true to yourself.  It’s about knowing what is yours to do and what isn’t.  It’s about knowing who your people are; and what people aren’t.

Somehow aloneness becomes a sweet confinement.  The silence rips away all pretense–and you can no longer be a good version of yourself.  You must be your true self.  You must put away all the good things (especially the good things other people want you to do!)–and only long for the best.

This is a beautiful poem for Lent.  “The world was made to be free in.”

These words have been a great support over the last week, as I’m coming to understand what it means for me to give up conformity for Lent.  For me it means hearing the whispering voice say, “What do you want?”  It’s responding honestly to that question.

It means paying attention to when I feel like I have to make someone else in the room comfortable–and realizing where this impulse is coming from.

It means entering into deep rest, remembering that I don’t exist just to serve other people.  It means knowing that I’m worthy.  Worthy of every good thing.

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I excelled at a young age, both academically and athletically.  I was smart, yet practical.  I didn’t quite fit the dumb blonde stereotype.  I beat all the boys when we would race at recess.  I remember having a realization while I was still in elementary school that I intimidated people.  I had strong strengths, but I didn’t like the effect this had in a group.  I would either shrink to make people feel comfortable, or avoid certain people if I wanted to act like myself.

I took on other people’s insecurity.  And over time, I didn’t know what was my energy or what was someone else’s.

I didn’t know this dynamic existed while I was still running and was successful.  I started to realize it when my health started deteriorating, when I could no longer hide behind my external achievements.  I knew then that actually my interior life was empty as well; I thought that I was what I could accomplish, but I was very wrong.

Even when I got sick, people would tell me, “You have such a good attitude” or “I don’t know how you persevere the way you do.”  I would smile to be polite and to make them comfortable–because when you are sick, you are very aware of how your existence makes people very uncomfortable.  I would muster some energy that I didn’t really have to say something trite like, “Well, I do the best that I can.”

Deep down in my bones though, I was tired of my over-responsibility, still trying to make other people in the room comfortable even when I was really sick.

Why?  I wanted to feel like I belonged.  I confused conformity with belonging.  I chose to not remember the basic truth that at an elemental level, that we all belong to each other.

So in order to belong, I would do a lot of emotional labor for other people so they would understand my illness.  I short-changed their learning, so that I could feel understood.

I sought support primarily externally (although I did need this), to the neglect of my own internal support & those in my life who had taught me resilience. The harder work is the inner work.

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During this Lent, what I felt my body saying was, “No more.”

“Take responsibility for your own emotional wake-but that’s it.”

“Really see who you are in the silence.”

The woman that is emerging from this silence is strong and compassionate.  She knows that her strength and compassion are nestled in her own body.  She is in touch with her intuition, and realizes when anxiety creeps in, that she is out of line with herself.  She gives to others, but also gives abundantly to herself.  She recognizes that the price of discovering oneself is misunderstanding and increased conflict–yet knows that the risk is worth it.  Rather than being afraid of her fatigue, she listens to it, for she knows that in it contains much wisdom.  She takes deep breaths, expressing gratitude for the life source that sustains her.  She knows that her power lies in letting go–only which is hers.

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Here I am.  In the present, as a strong woman.  Yet this time, one who knows her inherent worth and dignity.  I’m no longer the 8 year old on the playground-although that girl is still in me.

So is it arrogant or brave to step into the silence, with all of my gifts, with all of my hard-won wisdom?  Is it arrogant or brave to rest, both alone and in community, in order to give my best self to the world?

Is it arrogant or brave to leave places or people that do not make me come alive?

Is it arrogant or brave to speak truth to power?

Is it arrogant or brave to wander until you know where you are to put down roots?

I say brave, although of course the flip side is that the ones who feel rejected, say arrogant.  Yet, that’s not mine to worry about, is it?

 

Photo by Chad Madden on Unsplash