One thing that has not been making progress is my shoulder recovery. I’ve seen a doctor and four different (kinds of) therapists so far, and they have each helped a little bit, but only very little.
What have been making progress are my psychological, emotional, and spiritual health. My growth this summer has been gaining momentum, and lately I have felt like my consciousness is restructuring itself almost daily. I am learning more about myself and letting go of more of the barriers that have been holding me back, and I feel like I am gaining fluency in what it is like to be me.
Here are a few of the ways that has been taking shape recently.
I found Natalie Goldberg’s book “Long Quiet Highway,” about her life as a writer, in a Little Free Library and it has been exactly what I needed to hear right now, reinforcing the new perspectives that I have been coming to this summer as well as opening up new thoughts.
Here’s one. She keeps encouraging the reader, and herself in historical portrait, to write. Just write. And keep writing. About nothing, everything, the ordinary, the present moment, our own history, to follow any writing prompt. Not to wait for inspiration or the right situation or for everything to be perfect. Just write. Write poetry, fiction, nonfiction, anything, just write. Always write.
In my first life I occasionally tried writing fiction or poetry or journalism, but never kept it up; I was far too self-censoring and had far too many anxieties about whether I was producing anything good, so I didn’t produce anything. I couldn’t let myself get through that period of growing skill in which you are learning and getting better, for long enough to actually get better.
On my Journey, I have occasionally wanted to try this kind of non-goal-oriented writing again, but felt weighted down by my previous inconsistencies. But this is my Second Chance Life and I no longer have to be bound by anything that I did or didn’t do before.
In fact, I can try lots of things again for the first time without being weighted down by whatever I was not satisfied with in my first life.
And now I will try things in a new way, with a compassionate, courageous, creative, joyful mindset, and I will produce a lot of crap and be completely okay with that, and I will produce some good stuff, and be okay with that, too, not giving too much weight, or attaching my self worth, to either.
Oh, the possibilities!
Here’s another way my consciousness has been restructuring itself.
More and more over last few months, I have been letting my attention drop down into my body, feeling the quality of my entire body at any given moment. This has been extraordinary, and I think it is actually helping reduce the worries, distractions, and random thoughts that feed on each other with no good outcome. When I notice I’m feeling those things, I let my attention drop down into my body and it shifts everything. I know that’s not a helpful description, but I don’t have a better one yet.
It has also made me aware of how much I have not been in my body up until now. Except for those momentary exceptions when I’m following a guided meditation, hiking in nature, or doing something intensely physical, my body awareness seems to have been centered around my head and in my thoughts.
This surprises me because I have thought of myself as having a pretty good awareness of what is going on my body, and while I still think that was true, this feels more like a “being in presence,” not an “awareness of.” Again, I’m not sure if any of that makes sense. Sorry.
Maybe this one will.
My church puts on an annual retreat hosted at a local monastery, yet I haven’t attended in many years. The idea is for people to have sustained time together to deepen and renew relationships, and be fed with spiritual teaching apart from the distractions of day-to-day life. I like the sound of the latter, but my anxieties have been crippled by the prospect of the former.
But this year I have been making so much progress in letting go of my anxieties that I actually wanted to deepen these very relationships and though I was a little nervous, I was mostly looking forward to the experience.
Almost as soon as I arrived, a tiny, irrelevant thing triggered a huge, deep-seated fear that I wasn’t even aware existed, and I spent most of the weekend crying.
I’ve learned through experience that when some little thing happens that triggers a huge response, it is never truly about the thing that happened. It is about something deep inside me.
If I can be courageous and stay in that uncomfortable space of being hurt, angry, grieving, etc. for long enough to get through all of the “reasons” I tell myself to explain my reaction, and stay there long enough to figure out what is really going on, and face the thing I don’t want to see, and listen to it honestly and compassionately, I can have a breakthrough that will heal that old wound and lead to freedom from it.
This time, it was basically about wanting desperately to belong—both in this church and in a more general sense—and not feeling completely sure that I did.
I have experienced a lot of rejection throughout my life. Some of it was blatant and open, like from the kids at my new school when we moved to California. Some of it was not outright rejection but a feeling that I didn’t quite fit in, including from cousins and other extended family, in the Civil Air Patrol, and my other schools. I also realized this weekend that some of it was entirely self created.
After I was rejected a few times, I began looking for rejection. Whenever I didn’t feel like I fit in, my anxieties began to convince me that when someone was being nice to me they were only pretending, or following social etiquette and didn’t really mean it, that they couldn’t possibly actually like me, etc. I would latch onto every tiny, imagined suggestion that I wasn’t a part of the group (of whatever group).
Even though I have been a member of this church for close to 15 years, and they have consistently supported me and loved me and been there for me and several individuals have gone out of their way to care for me at various times, I am only just now starting to believe that they actually mean it.
I am finally shedding enough of those old patterns of belief and negative self-images, loving myself enough, that I’m finally starting to genuinely believe that they want me around, that I belong here, and that feels wonderful.
Now when someone looks at me and smiles, I’m not explaining it away, telling myself that they were just thinking of something else or being polite or whatever. When someone notices that I’m hurting and comes up to ask how I’m doing or just give me a quiet hug, I’m recognizing that that is acceptance, that is belonging, that is love. I really do belong here, and I’m feeling for the first time since I was a little girl in New York, that I fit in. I belong.
And here’s the kicker. I don’t fit in because I’m just like everyone else. This is an incredibly diverse community with people from a huge array of backgrounds. We aren’t all alike, but we all care about each other and love each other and treat each other with love.
When those backgrounds clash and relationships are hurt, as they inevitably will be, I’ve seen time and time again that we go to each other and repair the relationship and it becomes stronger and healthier because of that repair. This is one of the things that I love about this community, and the Orthodox Church in general, that it fosters exactly this kind of relationship building.
This particular parish is really a gem and does that extremely well. I love these people and I’m finally starting to believe that they are not just tolerating me, but truly love me back.
Halfway through the retreat, we had a time for sharing; a bit like a show and tell, with a sing-along and some goofy icon charades just for fun. I wanted to try out my new feelings of belonging, and read a story I had written many years ago, and it was very well received. I felt able to laugh and joke and just be with people without worrying whether they liked me or not, just accepting that they did. I didn’t need to be “on” or try to act in a particular way to be acceptable, I could just be myself and know that that would be good enough. Just being myself is good enough. I am good enough.
At the end of the retreat, I helped pack up a little, not from a place of trying to buy acceptability, but just because I wanted to help, and it was so much easier. I genuinely like helping, and I’ve often helped out in this way, and I didn’t actually do anything differently than I would have before, but it felt like a very different experience. Because I am becoming a different person. A more authentic version of me.
Since that breakthrough, I’ve decided that I need to spend a little longer here to let my brain have more completely ordinary, normal interactions with church members in which someone smiles at me and I don’t second-guess it, or says something nice to me and I don’t explain it away or write it off, to reinforce in my brain these new neural connections.
A few days later at the weekly book study, I didn’t feel like I needed to be “on,” or to try to figure out what it what was they might want from me in order to (try to, and fail to) be that. It was so easy to be there because I knew that I belonged, so I didn’t have to worry about saying the wrong thing and that no one would like me anymore, or not being insightful enough with a comment and everyone thinking that I am dumb or not good enough or whatever. I could just be me and make the comments that I wanted to make and not have to be afraid that they would reject me. And you know what, they didn’t reject me, everything went just fine, and just fine is great.
Well, that’s some of what’s been going on for me lately. It may not seem like much from the outside, but to me it is enormous.
I am unlearning the unhelpful patterns that I’ve taken for granted for so long that it is only now, in my late 30s, that I’m questioning whether they are true. And many are not. It feels a little like dying.
Those parts of me are dying and slowly being replaced by something better that I don’t really understand yet, but I’m trying to trust this is all a good and life-giving process. I don’t really want to leave New Mexico now because I feel like this process is getting fed here, but my mom needs me for a while, and I need her. I’ll be heading there soon for the winter, but will come back here in the spring before setting off on another season of travel.
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