Friday, February 12, 2016

Liberating Inheritances


When people die, they always leave something.  Plenty of people lose parents and were left with, say, thousands of dollars of hospital bills instead of thousands of dollars of bonus inheritance. That is still  something. Whether we are left with negative or positive, there's an inheritance.

I have privilege. My parents didn't leave behind as much money, but their parents did. And likely because my parents died so young - in their fifties, and while I was a teen - the money from their parents, who were all gone by the time I was twenty-two - came to me and my brothers. Enough to help me get a house, help out with some debts and investments. Enough to give me security for my future as a self-employed contemplative arts instructor. That's a definite positive inheritance I wanted to acknowledge before I point out some less positive gifts.

I also inherited a strong sense of needing to blame: blame someone, find fault, or, if no one else can be pinned for it, blame myself. I know this is societal as much as it is personal - find someone in the Midwestern, middle class, liberal white world who doesn't either struggle with blame or shame or both, and you've found an exception, not a rule. However, the flavor of it in my family, when tied to severe illnesses - both physical and mental - and sudden or early deaths, took on a sense of importance above and beyond the usual.

Thursday, February 04, 2016

Self Hatred Never Helps


I recently went to my annual physical. I knew going in that the painfully accurate scale would show me I have gained some weight, since pants have been tighter and my second chin a bit more prominent. Most of the time, I don't struggle too hard with this - I am as active as I can be, and eat relatively healthy.

I don't believe, not rationally, that fat=unhealthy, and have worked hard to get over early prejudices against myself and others in regards to body shape and size.

But beliefs run deep. Especially when it comes to our own bodies.

So when the scale showed me I weigh more than I hoped but less than I feared, I could feel the self-hatred start to creep in. Walking from the weight and height room to the examining room, even as I joked with the nurse about not putting my shoes back on, in my head I was making plans:
-Do Whole 30
-Get gym membership and go 3 times a week

The messages behind these - eat better and exercise more - are not problematic. 
But the tone was. Even if Whole 30 would be good for my body, or more exercise, they will not be helpful - or sustainable - if I take this attitude towards myself --

The tone was something more like this:
-You cannot be trusted to take care of yourself without structure. Restrict your diet and stick to it.
-You must push a lot harder on exercise. You resist it too much. Just fucking do it.

I wish I could say that's when I knew I was in trouble. Instead, behind the scenes a quiet and familiar war waged. I didn't even notice it until I was out of the appointment and at home, feeling shitty. The more sensitive and human aspect of myself put up weak arguments to be kind to myself, and the more aggressive and fearful part put up far too forceful arguments to be mean to myself.

Recently, my best friend has come up with a slogan that I love (this is my phrasing of it):
"Self hatred never helps."

After my appointment, as I cried on her proverbial phone shoulder (she lives in Portland), I came back to this phrase on my own. I asked of both of us - if self hatred, which is so deep, so default and habitual, doesn't work - which I believe it doesn't - what does?

Rebecca went on to describe attentiveness, kindness, curiosity. An ongoing, everyday engagement. We discussed the habitual patterns that seem to attract self-hatred: overly regulated systems like strict diets, as well as the polar opposite: spacing out and providing no structure at all. Then we engaged the mindsets that create so much space around the hatred that it loses its power, like asking what my body wants right now.

The problem, if it is a problem, is that self-hatred is easier, more convenient, habitual. 

Most of us crave easy answers - a prescripted diet or exercise plan, for instance. And for some of us, those work. Some of us respond well to regulated, even tight structure.

But in my experience coaching, teaching and human beinging, I find that most of us struggle, push back, and fight that tight of a structure. Self-hatred easily coopts whatever it can for it's own purposes, so that even if we enjoy a cleanse once, and decide we'd like to do it more regularly, behind the scenes, self hatred makes it into a project, tries to use it to punish us and prove a point.

So the answer might be diet and exercise, might even be a prescribed diet and exercise plan, but it must be flexible. Kind.

Body and diet, exercise and weight are such incredibly loaded, often poisonous waters for all of us, especially women. The last refuge of self hatred, a deeply culturally and personally embedded dark alley in the back of our minds and hearts. Coming to really feel and notice that self hatred never helps, is never a useful view or motivation, is essential. And it is a bottom line, a definite statement that underlines lots of quite less definite but strongly intuitive understandings about kindness and flexibility with ourselves and others.

These are the questions I will be contemplating around this:
-What kinds of structures seem to magnetize self-hatred?
-What kinds of structures seem to magnetize flexibility, space and understanding?
-Which causes lead to which effects? When I self hate, do I really feel better? 
-Balance is flexibility - not rigidity. Where is the balance? And it is not one point, so what does it feel like when I am stressed? Traveling? Alone? With others? 

It's crucial for each of us to truly feel that self hatred never helps, otherwise it is an empty adage. 
Simple answers are not the mostly likely to be true when it comes to human psyche.  
Self-hatred is an easy answer, a short-cut habit. It's ready availability makes it feel like truth, but it is only so accessible because it is a well-worn path, not because it is true. 
Relaxing back into the complexity and feeling what is true right now needs to be paired with a deeper, more compassionate ongoing view.  
For eating, for work, for life, for everything.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Doing Nothing Versus Not Doing Something


The other day, consoling a struggling Ilana, I fought off a part of me that said, as per usual, "Do something!"

It didn't say this directly, it said it via the ideas and judgments and assessments that flooded my mind, facing the space of her sadness. They take the common critic line of things like:
-you should have done something to prevent this
-she should have done something to prevent this
-she is going to feel this way forever
-you need to get her out of this...

When, if, I follow these and more, I am "doing something". But it is often the something she does not need. She needs something, but she needs space. Warmth. Trust. Holding. Silence without recrimination, even if it is me simply judging myself.

                         ��

Meditation is like this for me, too, like it is for so many people. Though I have plenty of personal and direct evidence with some fifteen years of sitting that it is "not doing nothing", I still believe that's the case at times.

How do I know that? Because thoughts flood my mind and I follow them pretty far before dropping them and coming back to the space of now. There's nothing wrong with that. There's nothing wrong with thoughts. But on the frequent occasions where my meditation is more focusing on thinking than letting it co-exist with space, I get evidence of how little I trust yet that meditation is in fact doing something. 

Even that practice, just seeing how much I am not trusting space, that it is something and not nothing, is worth it. I know that. No judgments here. Just curiousity about the beliefs that underlie my relationship to doing and being.

I know that it takes a lot of space to even see how I struggle with space. And still, even writing this, part of me wants to say: "Wrap it up with wisdom. Fix it."

And I refuse. I refuse to do that to you or to me. Instead I will do a something that seems like nothing: I will leave this contemplation open-ended, knowing I will return to it again and again, and hoping you will, too.


Friday, January 08, 2016

All Good Options

(One of my favorite signs this week, by Jeff Hanson - my error!: http://jeffhansondesign.com)

I am wrapping up a week at Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. I was invited here by Katey Schultz, to join what turned out to be nine other writers - and 70 other artists in varying media: ceramics, textiles, 2D, metalworking, sign painting (more on that in a moment), photography and more.

The event is a now annual-gathering of artists called The Pentaculum. It's the brainchild of Jason Burnett, and it's a brilliant idea: for a single flash-in-a-pan but profound week, hand-selected groups of artists arrive, make bunches of art (as collaborative or as isolated as you wish) and then leave. This is the second official year, and the first time ever in Arrowmont's 100 year history that writers have been here.

The first day I was shocked to see how busy Gatlinburg is - I had no idea it is a wild tourist haven on the edge of the Smokies. And the shock continued. A gaggle of richly diverse writers brand new to me, and dozens of other artists in all those media I mentioned plus people who don't fit into any category.

There were sort of unofficially two tracks I saw to take: go really deep with the writers and my own work, or really wide and explore with all the others. I spent four days going deep, one connecting with others, and one just trying to take a break from it all.

I got to where I wanted to get to in my memoir. I had lots of great supportive networking but also personal and deep conversations with the writers.

I also got to photograph a lot of great artists in action. I learned a ton about sign painting (first of all, that hand painter sign makers still exist!). I connected with a couple of key artists whose work I love.

And most importantly, though now, at the end, I wish I had spread out and met more artists in other media, I got to sink deeply and lovingly into an extraordinarily rare hand picked group of writers. This was not your average retreat/residency. Katey picked a few really good folks - not just good writers but great humans - and we made exceptional space for each other all week.

You can't have it all. I got a lot.
I am trading in any regret for gratitude.



Thursday, December 24, 2015

Christmas Eve and Beliefs


If our family had kept the Christ in Christmas, as the slogan of a few years ago goes, we would have never celebrated it. My parents were atheist/agnostic, and not interested in belief.

However, we had a tree, and lights: white ones on the part of the tree that shone out to the outside world, color lights for inside the house. There was magic there, in the jokes, in the presents, in the lights and in the Handel's Messiah and other classical music. The wine. Herring filets on Ritz Crackers with Mertz's cheese spread. Potato chips with French Onion Dip.

In other words, we had traditions.

Sometimes I think I miss my parents on holidays like this. I do. I miss them. I miss these traditions, though I barely celebrate Christmas anymore. I could bring any of these back, enact these traditions. Fundamentally, though I miss childhood, which I know I can't get back. None of us can.

So what can I take from that to believe in? Carry forward?