Be Seen

Today is a wonderful day: International Women’s Day. Women all over the world are speaking up, speaking out about where work still needs to be done to foster equal representation and to encourage courage in the face of those who wish to make us small.

The idea that to change the world we must change ourselves rings very true to me. How can we bring peace into the world if we ourselves are not peaceful? How can we encourage loving relations in the world if we are not loving toward ourselves? Initially, this idea of changing ourselves can seem more manageable than changing the world. Physically, of course, the world is enormous, and it is indescribably complex. Yet, as we are with ourselves continuously, there is always an opportunity to change ourselves, any moment. However, women’s inner worlds are also complex. If you are like me, it can be difficult to look inside. It can feel overwhelming to unearth all the emotions, fears, preconceived notions, and anger. I believe that’s why we can spend quite a bit of energy trying to change other people, other situations, other modes of thought. Yet if we have hatred, how can we expect others to release their hatred? If we judge and discriminate against some others, how can we demand others to not judge and discriminate against some other others? It takes courage to change the world, but it might take more courage to change ourselves.

This year’s IWD theme: Be Bold for Change. Be bold for change in the world, be bold for change in yourself.

I’ve been spending a good deal of time this semester feeling small, not wanting to be noticed. I believe this is because I am in a new relationship, and I’m being noticed, and there is an excellent chance this person will notice aspects of my personality or habit patterns that I am not proud of, or that are holding me back, or that are contradictory, or maybe even harmful to myself or others. This is ironic, because I spent a good deal of time last semester desiring that someone would notice me, that someone would see me. What I realize now is that I wanted someone to see my good, but not my not-so-good. So I’ve been slowly shrinking myself in hopes that I just won’t be noticed.

But what an opportunity. There is someone who sees me, who is seeing me more and more deeply. I can show someone who I am, I can share with someone how I think, I can tell someone my fears, I can mess up and be afraid and trip over myself and that person can be a witness to all of that living. Someone seeing me so closely is really, really scary for me. But what can I do but to keep showing up, keep refusing to get small, keep encouraging the courage in myself? It hurts to be seen, it hurts not to be seen. Which do you choose?

Happy International Women’s Day. Remember not to focus only on how far we have yet to go, but also on how far we’ve come. Remember the freedoms that you experience every day in addition to where your freedom is restricted. Remember that you are not alone, and women all over the world experience heartache, jealousy, self-criticism, rage, and fear. Remember that we all want to be seen, we all want to be loved, we all want to feel safe, we all want to feel justified.

And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom. – Anais Nin

Conventional Candy

From August 2007 until July 2016 I ate no Conventional Candy. Not a Skittle, not a Starburst, not a Reese’s, not a Snickers. For nearly nine years I lived in dire fear of high fructose corn syrup, THB, and Yellow #5. It was unthinkable for me to pass a mass-produced, genetically-modified, artificially-flavored sweet morsel over my tender, pure, organic lips. Childhood nostalgia, Halloween, and “guilty pleasures” were non-issues concerning Candy. I simply did not partake.

Everything changed when I started working at Bun on the Run this summer. I’ve written about what it was like to work at the Bun here. Working at the Bun was magical. Working at the Bun was like being a little worker elf at the Big Rock Candy Mountain, except this particular little elf was working at the Big Monster Cookie Mountain. The Bun is famous (infamous?) for their monster cookies. Besides being Cookies of Unusual Size (COUSs), these monsters contain not only one kind of Conventional Candy, but two: Plain and Peanut M&Ms.

Something else you should know about monsters is that they break easily. This is due to their gluten-free nature and the fact that it is difficult to tell when the cookies are all the way done, so sometimes they are shelved slightly underdone and oversoft. Anyway, they often fall apart, rendering themselves unsalable, so they end up in the baker’s Vortex of Temptation (see here).

Now, for the first month or so, I stuck to my guns. Not an M&M, not a bite of Monster. As you will see, my well-intentioned, stalwart abstinence was short-lived.

One morning I was shaping buns and wanted a little snack. I had gotten into the habit of eating cookies before 7:00 am. I would come into the trailer, tying my apron, and Wendy would zoom in with some little baked good for me to sample. Sometimes she would zoom with a cookie. It’s surprisingly easy to just start accepting that it’s okay to start eating cookies at 6:35 am. This particular morning, it must have been nearly 7:00, and I must not have had a cookie yet. My eyes zipped up to the Vortex and I saw broken monsters. The transgression was nigh. I ate a chunk of warm, peanut-y, soft, M&M-riddled Monster Cookie; my first. Not my last.

Then Candy just naturally started coming into my life again. My friend Sophie, who is so darn cute, offered me a dark chocolate mini Reese’s. Sophie always, always has a bag of these. I ate it. One time Sophie and I were hanging out with my other friend Mary and Sophie had an XL bag of peanut M&M’s. I ate those too, in camaraderie. The big moment came when Wendy shared some discount Halloween candy during our epic fat bike misadventure. I popped down those little sugar bombs like no one’s business. The point of no return.

I remember Michael Henry telling me, in the wise words of Brian “Swifty” Swift, that it’s good to eat Skittles every now and then. I thought this was terrible advice at the time (circa 2012). I owe Swifty credit. I in no way endorse eating Conventional Candy, or encourage you to do it if you do not see ethically/morally/politically fit, or know it to be unhealthy and bad for your teeth (which it is, definitely!). Please continue to avoid Conventional Candy at all costs. All I want to say is that, upon returning to my childhood Candy roots, I have matured. As healthy as it is to not eat it, I personally feel it’s healthier to move on past dysfunctional and unrealistic rigidity. I have relaxed into the notion that it is okay and acceptable and lovely to eat Conventional Candy if I want. My body is so robust and awesome, it can process that shit no problem. Peace.

The basic point of it all

Pema Chödrön:

The basic point of it [meditation] all is just to learn to be extremely honest and also wholehearted about what exists in your mind – thoughts, emotions, bodily sensations, the whole thing that adds up to what we call “me” or “I”.

Nobody else can really begin to sort out for you what to accept and what to reject in terms of what wakes you up and what makes you fall asleep. Non one else can really sort out for you what to accept – what opens up your world – and what to reject – what seems to keep you going round and round in some kind of repetitive misery…

…Because we are decent, basically good people, we ourselves can sort out what to accept and what to reject. We can discern what will make us complete, sane, grown-up people, and what – if we are too involved in it – will keep us children forever.

This is the process of making friends with ourselves and with our world. It involves not just the parts we like, but the whole picture, because it all has a lot to teach us.

From The Wisdom of No Escape and the Path of Loving-Kindness.

Photo credit.

Perfect in my imperfect perfection

A human life can be difficult to organize into neat patterns.

However, one aspect of my life I find quite easy to cleanly delineate. I see a reliable, undeniable pattern in which I experience a profound level of peace, ease, and self-gentleness for a time before an experience comes along that tips me off the cliff into deep darkness. This does not correlate neatly with my monthly cycle. Besides the inevitability of the fall, there is little rhyme or reason to timing or what kind of experience will cause the shift. I am not a moderate person in this way.

I felt myself coming out of a deep darkness yesterday evening. Besides patiently waiting it out, there is little I can do in terms of self-care to crawl up the cliff and back to the meadow. It is like every deep darkness comes to me so I can learn something about human beings, about myself, about wise living. This time, my lesson was regarding imperfection.

My desire to be perfect is nearly all-encompassing. I desire even to be perfect in my imperfections, as if I had intentionally planned out all the yucky stuff in my life and nothing about me is an accident (is anything an accident?).

If you know me personally, you probably know that I meditate regularly and take my practice very seriously. It is my life’s largest treasure. This effort brings me enormous benefit, but it can also hinder me in some ways, at least until I realize that I’m self-hindering and learn from that experience as well. Because the practice is fairly demanding, I find myself trying to attain perfection in my practice. Never missing a sitting, never opening my eyes or moving while sitting, tailoring my daily schedule to sitting, dedicated sobriety, a strong desire to “do it all myself,” etc. I was sitting last night with a new friend and this hideous monster from the deep darkness I had been calmly staring in the face for five days softened and melted into a voice reminding me that I can be imperfect. I can make goals that I immediately give up on. I can make the same unhelpful decisions on the daily until I breathe my last. I can engage in laziness against my better judgment. I can be a mediocre friend, coworker, gardener, and bicyclist. I can let myself be afraid and not expect that to ever turn into bravery. Life still proceeds without my permission. I am still lovable.

Perhaps that is actually my greatest desire, to be lovable. It’s okay to forget that I am lovable, it’s okay for you to forget, because you will remember. Even if it’s only the sudden sun on your face after a day of rain, you will be reminded that you are loved. Enjoy the light, observe the dark. Every moment is a precious jewel of discovery.

Photo courtesy of scottishnativewoods.blogspot.com.

This isn’t supposed to be easy; plus, trying to be mediocre

My mind chirped one day while practicing violin.

The piece wasn’t that challenging, really. My mind was chirping (actually, it was more like a very calm, measured tone…I just like the idea of a mind chirping) about how being a violinist isn’t easy. Again, not in a technical sense, not in a marketing or business sense, but in the sense that it just isn’t easy to practice consistently and intelligently. At least, not for me. Never has been, potentially never will be. It’s bizarre to me that this lifelong endeavor of violinism has never come that “naturally” to me. I don’t want to practice. Almost never do I sincerely feel inspired to practice. I would rather just play with my friends without all the time at home, surrounded by scale books and metronomes. I would rather just lilt through some Celtic tunes for about 10 minutes then go for a hike. Or spontaneously engage in penny whistle duets with Ian in the kitchen while Dani is trying to put Eowyn to sleep.

Written out as such, I suppose, this doesn’t seem like such a big deal. So what, I don’t want to practice? I play with the symphony and love it. I was in a highly successful world-renowned almost-got-a-Grammy-nomination-no-not-a-Grammy-but-a-nomination folk band called Patchy Sanders. I’ve been to Germany and Greece with my violin. I’ve competed and won competitions. I studied privately with excellent teachers for 15 years and was awarded with university honors and scholarships. Isn’t that enough?

I should still love playing scales to be a real violinist, my mind helpfully reminds me.

But that day when I had randomly sat down to practice, almost by accident did I sit to work through some etudes, that an inner voice intoned that it didn’t have to be easy to be real, to be meaningful. Even if it isn’t easy, practice is still essential. Even if I don’t practice, I’m still a violinist.

I’ve spent most of my life trying to be accomplished at everything. School, sports, baking, cooking, organizing, eating, yoga, music of all shades, art, knitting, biking, running, camping, hiking, work, clothes, attractive hair styles, musculature, clear skin, a good friend, a good girlfriend, “one of the boys”, sprouting and soaking my grains, etc. And I’m pretty good at almost everything I attempt. But why? Why do I have to be so good at everything? Yuck, that idea seems.

So I’m intentionally practicing being mediocre at several things. Well, two is all I can think of right now.

  1. My room has been messy (“fashionably messy”, I’m calling it, a similar idea to the more widely-known “fashionably late” concept) for about a week and I don’t do anything about it. I just step over things and undress into a pile and sleep in a little avenue near the wall because the rest of my bed is taken up by books. I leave bowls and stuff in there.
  2. I also consider myself a really poor dresser. I don’t really make that much disposable income for new clothes. Everything I’m wearing right now was given to me for zero dollars. My shirt features a mediocre hem job by yours truly. Sometimes I get a good outfit idea and I look in the mirror later and am baffled once more. But I’m learning to be happy anyway amidst my bafflement.

This post also isn’t very good, a bit rambling and, in my opinion, boring, without a lot of originality or deep spiritual insight. I’m going to publish it anyway.

See how far.

See how far Love can take you today.

Ask: can I accept even this about myself?

Let your Love for yourself shine and bathe all those who behold you.

It can feel heavy when you realize that what you hold as true was misguided.

Let the past slide off you like February rain on slick duck feathers.

Ask yourself: what is wise?

“Should” is confusing.

Place volition on the shelf above action.

If you can’t sleep at 4:30 am, it’s a beautiful thing to get up and take a bubble bath.

If you get distracted at work, it’s a beautiful thing to write lovely words to interested readers.

If you eat seven cookies, it’s a beautiful thing to eat seven more.

If you feel lonely and scared, it’s a beautiful thing to fall into your old coping mechanisms.

If you try seeing the beautiful in everything, you eventually won’t have to try.

What are you waiting for?

Who is going to live your life for you?

This is it!