Walking Towards The Bear

“Every moment of one’s existence, one is growing into more or retreating into less.
One is always living a little more or dying a little bit.”
Norman Mailer

I received an email newsletter from Tama Kieves, author of This Time I Dance!: Creating the Work You Love and Inspired and Unstoppable: Wildly Succeeding in Your Life’s Work, with this quote at the end of a story about how she had to walk past a bear while hiking in the words.

And I thought: What is my bear? What is the thing in my life that scares me most of all? For me, it has been the same thing as long as I can remember: Wanting to please others, I restrict myself. In my head, I have equated things I do with other people, their reactions, and their anger.

But is that really true?

The Buddha says the way to end suffering is not to be attached to anything. Let feelings and situations come and go. Don’t cling. Experience it and then release it. The Buddha would tell me not to be attached to what other people do. Just live my life, and let other people do what they are going to do.

I’m not into a lot of New Age woo. I try to have an open mind. If there are things that don’t ring true with me, I set them aside. If there’s too much of that, then I toss the book. One book I did not toss was The Four Agreements by don Miguel Ruiz. The one I need to work on the most is this: Don’t take things personally.

That can be difficult when you want to maintain a relationship that is important to you, and you have spent your life interpreting things personally. However, to continue taking things personally moves me in the direction of dying a little bit. I feel hollow inside and unable to move forward based on things I can do nothing about.

Can I make someone see another point of view? No. Can I make someone talk to me? No. Can I help someone change themselves to be more trusting, more open, and to forgive so that I can have a deeper relationship with them? No. I have no control over a lot of things that other people do, but the fact is that, somewhere deep inside, I do believe it.

And that’s a major problem.

The bear won’t overwhelm me. The bear will threaten and roar, and then leave me in the wilderness by myself. I will be alone, vulnerable, and afraid. The bear stalks me like this every day of my life.

I am taking steps to try and free myself from the idea of the bear. The bear isn’t necessarily fear or terror. The bear is what we make it.

And, as Tama Kieves says in her newsletter, the only way out of our conundrum is to walk past the bear towards freedom.

I’m Still Here

Hello, readers! I am back to assure you that I have not abandoned my blog. Yes, it’s been a week. A really really really really really rough week. I’m at an ebb in my journey through writing and creativity, and I have been at a peak of disorganization and illness.

I decided to halt my meanderings through The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. Frankly, I started falter after week 3. By week 8, I began to repeat weeks. When I “redid” week 10, I did not look at the book. I said I would read through the remaining chapters, but I haven’t.

Is that a failure? In some ways, yes. Part of the issue is that I find it time consuming and difficult to think of an artist date every week. Julia recommends that you push your creative boundaries, but I’m not sure I’m at that level. I’ve even lost the motivation to write morning pages.

On the plus side, I have an appointment with a social worker who uses EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) as part of her treatment work. I worked with a social worker for 2.5 years in the Boston area who used EMDR, and I found it effective. I only stopped after moving to the NYC area in September.

I am in the place where I have always gotten stuck, although I managed to stay motivated for an amazing three months. That may not sound like much. When you are the type of person who’s enthusiasm almost never lasts a week, this is amazing.

Either way, I want to dig in the earth of my primal system and memories and excavate all the terrors and monsters that continue to haunt my life.

I seek nothing less than to open my core up to the world. I seek fearlessness.

From May 31 to June 9, I am participating in the Hay House World Summit 2014 where I will have access to 100 audio lessons, worksheets, movies, and videos, as well as making a donation, all for $7.

As a huge fan of The Untethered Soul by Michael Singer, I bought and downloaded two mp3s of the author’s insights on the book, approximately 2 hours in length altogether.

I seek radical, life-changing transformation in a positive direction where I am able to consistently work towards my goals.

Universe, gimme all ya got. I stand ready to receive your guidance.

Namaste.

Letting Go of the Past

Surrender to now

About 8 years ago, I saw someone who I had not seen since high school at a mutual friends’ birthday party. Before he left, he looked at me and said, “Love you.” I think I replied, “Love ya back” or something close to it.

I saw him again recently. He said something along the lines of “Let me know when you divorce your husband.” I laughed and said, “Why would I want to do that?” After it came out of my mouth,  I half realized what he say saying. We let it drop and talked about something else.

Now that I am back living in my hometown, I have been thinking of him and these interactions that we have had. The thoughts made me sad, and I put down a lot of my questions that have been causing me to suffer.

Are you serious? Why are you saying these things? Why now? How long have you loved me? Why did you never say anything to me when you saw me all the time and when I could have said yes to you? Were you ashamed of me? Afraid? You once said you were intimidated by me and my smart friends. Was that true? Even if I said yes, would it have worked? Would you, the knows-everyone townie, and I, the caged animal who yearned to break free at a full run, really would have worked in a relationship? 

The thoughts kept haunting me. I felt sad, so I decided to pause, relax, and let myself feel it. I cried and then realized that I was perpetuating my own suffering.

In high school, I would have given anything for this gentle, kind, funny person to ask me out. If he had asked me out, held my hand, gave me kisses, been proud to be seen in public with me, I would have been propelled into outer space happy.

With that, I felt a shattering of my high school image of myself: unlovable and unloved. I was only those things because I told myself so, and because I hinged my inner self worth on the meaning given to me by the affections of other people. Because of that, I suffered then, and I suffered now.

I am reminded to be ever so gentle with myself. Being gentle with others results when you are gentle with yourself. You cannot be judgmental and gentle at the same time. You cannot know your own worth or your own sense of self love if you are hard, judgmental.

Once again, I recommit myself to letting go of the past, the things I cannot change, the false beliefs in myself that caused me immense pain, and to be gentle with myself.

Surrender. Release. Hope.

NAMASTE
~~~~~~~~

My Waking Up Pages

In The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, she suggests writing every morning upon awakening. She calls them morning pages because they are to be done in the morning. I call them my Waking Up Pages because it will be waking up through my writing, which has meaning on more than one level.

In the Basic Tools chapter, Julia lists 10 Basic Principles that followers of the 12-week program are to read every morning. Item #6 reads:

The refusal to be creative is self-will and is counter to our true nature.

I made two copies of the Basic Principles list. I put one inside my daily writing journal and one inside Julia’s book. I wanted to ensure that I would read the list before doing whatever writing I was doing. Number 6 in the list has been particularly poignant for me because I have refused to be creative for my entire life.

One of my first memories is playing with Barbie dolls with my friend, Kendall. She loved dolls, dressing them up, and pretending that Barbie and Ken were going on dates. I remember begrudgingly playing with the dolls because that is what my best friend loved to do, and I wanted to play with my best friend. I remember admonishing myself about not having anything to add, that I didn’t know what I was doing, and that I did not what to make the dolls do, either.

In a recovery inspired manner, the twelve chapters of The Artist’s Way help the reader address various blocks. Week 1 is about Recovering a Sense of Safety, an important base from which creative work springs. My morning pages writings have centered much on recreating that sense of safety and exploring ways in which I have refused my creative drive. Even if you do not believe that creativity is core to the nature of human beings, my refusal to follow a creative path has been counter to my own nature.

This morning, I did not write upon rising. I had some food and got ready to go to an aqua fit class. I arrived in the locker room only to realize I had no towel to dry myself off. I wanted to pout and go to Starbucks for a consoling snack, but I left my wallet at home. I came home, answered emails, and felt a rising panic in my stomach. I was conscious that I was putting off my writing. But why?

My husband and I came to work at the Bellerose Starbucks, and I began to write my daily writing. Although I had interesting dreams to write about, I ignored them to go to aqua fit class. When I sat to write, I could no longer remember them. I vaguely remember exploring themes of companionship and self-care, but the interesting details were gone.

Why did I not write them and go to a later class? My unconscious mind was feeding me back the issues of creating my own safety net and truly taking care of myself. I refused to let myself learn. I refused to grow because an external, logical reason told me that I had something more important to do. Despite knowing there was an afternoon class, my decision to go to the morning class meant that my left brain refused to relinquish any control to satisfy the right. Half of my brain is the prison guard convinced anything not like itself is to be crushed to dust.

This has been the crux of my lifelong creative self-denial: Creativity cannot be defended as logical and practical enough to be respected. Why does my left brain contain such a self-effacing critic that seeks to deny and to destroy anything within my life that is not the same as itself, especially feelings, desires, and urges? As a recent observer, the realization is shocking.

I acknowledged today that I have not wanted to write upon waking because I am too fuzzy headed to think clearly. But maybe that is exactly what I need. I need to act before my rational brain is awake enough to interfere with the expression of my creativity. Using the I’m not awake enough excuse is similar to the I’m not feeling well excuse, the I don’t know what to write about excuse, the the cats won’t leave me alone to write excuse, and the I’m in pain today excuse. Because I have fibromylagia, I chronically experience pain despite taking pain meds.

I need to wake up through writing as my head gains clarity I open my eyes. I need to wake up to my discoveries of self, to my own ability to protect and nurture my self, and to wake up to my own life as it is and can be through creative endeavors.

I am waking up to my conscious and unconscious mind, to my creativity and spirituality, and to my excuses. By surrendering my refusal to create and my negative self-will, I wake up to my life as if sunshine were waking me up from a long, cloudy existence.

Currently Reading: Daybook by Ann Truitt

Ann Truitt (1921-2004) was a major American artist in the mid-20th century. Although I recently learned about her, I cannot remember how I came across this artist. When I discovered that she wrote Daybook as a journal of her own discovery process as an artist, I knew I had to read it.

Ann was a minimalist sculptor, writer, and mother. Her writings share her feelings about whatever she was going through at the time: her time at Yaddo, an artists colony in Saratoga Springs, NY; her financial struggles before and after her divorce; her childhood; and how she came to be who she was as an artist.

Instead of feeling a huge gap between me and this artist, I feel close to her. Her journey is my journey. Where she has gone, I can go but in my own direction. Where she was, I have passed there. Here is one quote where I know what she means (italics mine):

I begin seriously to contemplate taking a routine job of some sort but am loathe to do so. Not out of laziness but because I fear the kind of sickening failure implicit in betrayal of self, the spending of my energy drop by drop instead of into the waves that lift my work into existence.

For most of my life, I lived an existence of sickening self betrayal. I know that hard knot in the stomach put there by an internal screaming that tells you, both at once, that you cannot fail at this thing called life  and at the same time screams that you must cannot open yourself and follow your hearts desires. I know the shallow panic of a closing throat and the internal silent hysterics that are whipped up from the prohibition that no one can know how I really feel. I ate the pressures of self submission into conformity until touched by another’s stressful requests, which then exploded all over the two of us. I was left shaking in shame; they were left confused and afraid.

Ann Truitt’s Daybook is the journey of herself and the journey of artists everywhere. I am not sculptor, but I see and feel the life she crafted as she made her way forward through and into her art. I can craft that for myself, maybe not in color blocks, but in words, in story, and in the sharing of the self. I share my Self in the hopes that someone else can see their tracks in mine, their hopes in mine, and their dreams in mine.

TED Talks Addiction: Sir Ken Robinson

Shoutout to one of the blogs I read, Flavorwire, for posting interesting articles on writing and education. I am not sure how I got around to watching Sir Ken Robinson on TED Talks Education on YouTube, but I have been having a delightful time. The intersection of learning, education, and creativity is a topic I love to explore. It helps when the speaker has a short laugh, sense of humor, and delivery akin to Eddie Izzard, my favorite comedian.

If the intersection of learning, education, and creativity is a topic that interests you, I recommend you watch these talks by Mr. Robinson’s:

  1. How Schools Kill Creativity
  2. Bring on the Learning Revolution
  3. Changing Education Paradigms
  4. How to Escape Education’s Death Valley

In his talks, Mr. Robinson makes a solid case that the development of the educational system in America arose during the Enlightenment in direct response to the needs of American industrialization during the 1800’s. Like a factory churning out widgets, we group our children in batches by age (i.e., their manufacturing date), move them along regardless of where they are individually, with an emphasis on only teaching skills that business rewards. On top of that, we undervalue our teachers, have had laws made that try to remove the variability in methods (i.e. standardization of testing, the No Child Left Behind Act), and fail to spark real learning and education in children. Instead, we treat them like their childhood is a disease from which they are suffering (i.e. identify them as suffering from ADHD) and drug the hell out of them.

I think I would have had more problems in elementary school if I had not been on phenobarbital, a barbiturate routinely given to treat epileptic seizures in children in the 1970’s, until I was 12 years old. I can only imagine that it made me less fidgety than other children possibly were feeling at the time. I learned to divert my energies into my studies and to getting good grades.

One of my first and enduring memories about my life was that I was not imaginative. I was not creative. I would never be as creative or as good in my creativity as “other people”. I was taught that building a life out of creativity was something you only did if you were not smart enough to do anything else in life. Isn’t that terrible?

What I wanted then and throughout my adult life has been to build a creative life. As an adult, I repeatedly turned away from myself, from what I wanted, from what I thought I wanted to do with my life, and away from creativity. I was determined to find a way to apply myself to an office job because that was where the stability and the money was.

It was also where the misery was, for me at least. I never wanted to work in an office. I could not imagine myself not working in an office. I never wanted to have bosses and be told what to do. I could never imagine that my own internal thoughts and desires were sufficient directive to do what I wanted. I waxed and waned between anxiety and terror. What if I wasn’t any good?

In the meantime, I threw myself at work. Force words, terms, actions, and knowledge into my head so that I could learn to do something practical. Dependable. Objective. So that no one would point at me and be able to say, “See what you did? You wasted your life! All that smarts and all you did was paint? All you did was write a work of fiction? Why are you wasting your time with unimportant things?” I imagined a person in my head, using my mother’s voice, or the voice or a sister, telling me I was wasting my time. If my time was a waste, I was a waste. If I was a waste, then I did not deserve to be here or do anything worthwhile, because what I thought was worthwhile was to be reviled.

I struggle with creative work. I struggle with writing. I have a story to edit that overwhelms me with all that needs to be done. I will attend to it because I have finally gotten it through my fortified skull the one lesson I earned through my own misery: that no amount of respect or money will make me happy. Only I can make me happy when I chose work that is meaningful to me. To create, to make, and to write are what I love more than anything else. If others  have made a life built on those things, then so can I.

I am not too late. I am here now. I have learned by rejecting the ideals of an educational system that teaches us only certain things that we love, that only certain people, matter. What we do, who we love, and how we treat each other are all things that matter deep within our selves.

3 Important Things to Learn About Life From These 3 Actors

When we see the end result, we think that is all there is

In my post yesterday about the book The Longest Way Home by actor, director, and travel writer Andrew McCarthy, I admired how he shared his inner dialog and reveal his human flaws. I am inspired by those who are able to move beyond their inner struggles and find a way to release their souls and desires out into the world. In this book, Mr. McCarthy shares whatever messy, unformed, and unflattering thoughts and actions he takes. This itself takes a kind of courage that few possess. Continue reading

Fibromyalgia Pain Management: Easier Said Than Done

Pain management is often discussed when talking about patients under going major medical problems, such as chemotherapy or surgeries. However, the type of chronic pain that comes with fibromyalgia, which is what I have, can often be compounded by other types of pain, such as menstrual pain.

On the one hand, I have my daily pain medications, Gabapentin and Cymbalta. They provide me with with relief from a good deal to most of the pain on good days. Cymbalta especially allows me to get a full night’s sleep. I am therefore able to get up, take care of myself, and even work for part to most of the day.

If I am under the influence of menstrual pain, then my body is in chaos. Menstrual pain amplifies the chronic daily pain so that it feels like my entire body is suffused in a nonspecific pain. I can control it with medications like Premysyn but, if I take too much, then I can’t do more than lay around on the couch or take a minimum four-hour nap. So I can only take 1 Premysyn pill to take the edge off. I am left with a slightly overmedicated feeling, which is better than being in a state of amplified pain.

Managing chronic pain is a delicate balance between living with too much pain and taking too much medication. The additional one pill I take for menstrual pain only slightly pushes me into the overmedicated category, which is better overall for my ability to live my life in any way that I can.

3 Ways That Living on Long Island is Like Living in LA

VeniceLA-Pacific Ave

Perspective

As I have mentioned in earlier posts, I recently moved from the Boston metro area back to my hometown on Long Island near NYC after 24 years away. In the last 7 years, I went on vacation to Los Angeles three times; the first time I stayed downtown, the second time near Park La Brea, and the last time in Santa Monica. Now that I am back on Long Island, I see similarities between the two locations that I did not see or understand in the past.

SIMILARITY #1: TOTAL SQUARE MILEAGE

Whether you live in Nassau County, in one of the five New York City boroughs, or in the city of Los Angeles, you live in a metropolitan area that covers hundreds of square miles. Nassau County is smallest at 453 square miles, New York City is slightly larger at 468 square miles, and the city of Los Angeles is largest at 503 square miles. When I was growing up, I kept hearing about how much bigger LA was. I imagined the difference would be considerably larger than a 50 square mile difference. I know that LA is a county but, for comparison purposes, I am focusing on the city proper itself.

SIMILARITY #2: RELIANCE ON CARS

Although NY has better public transportation, the sheer size means that getting around on public transportation can take a while and not always convenient, which is why many people choose to drive cars. Because of the number of cars on the road, traffic is terrible in both cities, especially rush hour traffic. According to this USA Today online article, New Yorkers spent more time in traffic (the highest average commute time of 34.9 minutes) during peak hours than in Los Angeles (the 15th ranked average commute time at 28.6 minutes). I am not sure how LA can be more congested than NY and still have a lower average commute time.

SIMILARITY #3: NO ONE WALKS ON LONG ISLAND, EITHER

When the market crashed in 2007/2008, the streets of Boston and Cambridge were flooded with bicyclists commuting to work in protest of the $4/gallon gasoline prices. Even when things returned to normal, bicycle commuting did not drop off. When I drove around New York in my parents car shortly after moving back, I was stunned: I saw almost no one walking or using a bicycle. Granted, I am now in Nassau County, but the lack of anything other than cars shocked me. It feels like a human wasteland instead of a vibrant community of humanity.

Maybe they are all at the gym.