Thursday, April 17, 2008

When Boundaries Make Fences

I’ve always been a person with a heightened sense of integrity. Even as a kid, I worried about money, wanting to be as independent as possible, to not put a financial strain on my parents (as if that was ever an issue; my dad was a doctor!). I rarely asked for things that cost money, and I got my first job as soon as I was old enough. Even then, every decision I made seemed weighty. Is it right? Is it good? Am I making that decision for the right reason? When I would go on road trips with my family, I’d see ghosts of the ancient decimated tribes who used to fish and hunt there. Once I understood what patriarchy meant, I spent years reading nothing but books by women and people of color. I always understood in some visceral way the privilege that my white skin and parents’ financial stability gave me. I was a pretty serious kid, as you can imagine.

Rob Brezsny recently wrote a horoscope for Geminis that told me to be on the lookout for, among others, “humble perfectionists who obsess over the integrity of every little thing they do and then mock themselves for being so conscientious.” I laughed at that, because that’s me to a T.

I’m proud of my conscientousness (is that a word?), the importance that personal integrity has in my life. Yet, I can also see how it has the potential to limit me, put fences around me and sap my enjoyment of life, if I let it. Sitting around with some kind of 24-hour flu thing on Monday, I started thinking about someone I’ve just started casually dating. Not a social change person at all, drives an SUV (though a small one), doesn’t spend a lot of time thinking about how to be more compassionate or how to change the world for the better. I’m used to people like that – most people I know are basically self-obsessed and don’t have much mental room for world-changing. I happen to consider world-changing my vocation, but I know that's not everyone's gig. But he’s also fun, sweet, sexy as hell, listens when I talk, holds my hand when we walk together, likes my cat, and has a fine sense of adventure. Not to mention it’s the first time in 6 or 7 years that I’ve had a mutual attraction with someone who lives in the same state.

But for a stomach-dropping minute, lying in bed with fever, I knew, just knew, that I had to drop my new friend because he isn’t the social activist I’ve always seen myself dating. For a moment, that voice that makes every decision I make have to be about personal sacrifice and “doing the right thing” gained hold. I regained my equilibrium after a few minutes, but that got me thinking about how too much attachment to “doing the right thing” can also be bad for us, can be just as limiting as having no passion and no interests, like the guy I had to interview recently in Spanish class who claimed to have no favorite pastimes, food, movies, or books. I can’t even imagine!

My mom loves Starbucks. I can’t stand the jolly green giant, cloaking every urban area with its corporate mood-manipulation. Every time I see a Starbucks I think of that episode of the Simpsons where Bart is skateboarding through a mall where every storefront is a Starbucks except one, which changes into one as he rides past. Yet my mom loves Starbucks. And I love my mom. And sometimes when she helps me do errands (since I have no car), she wants to go get her favorite drink at Starbucks and treat me to one, too. Who am I to argue with her about that? To me, connection with my mom is more important than stiffing Starbucks the $2.50 they’ll get for my coffee drink.

I believe that my reason for being on this planet at this time is to keep learning and evolving, and to offer my life as a model for new way of being that isn’t about competition, consumerism, or self-righteousness. But part of learning to be like water is learning to flow, not to force change by hammering people over the head with my need for them to be like me. So with my mom, and my new friend, I’m practicing the art of going with the flow, and of not letting my inner magnet of integrity pull me away from the connections and experiences that matter. I still want to change the world, but I also know that this new world won’t be any fun if everyone worries endlessly over every little decision they ever make. Besides, love begets love, whether it’s in a Starbucks or an SUV.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Something's Happening Here....What it Is Ain't Exactly Clear

So I've had some kind of transformation lately. I haven't written about it because the truth is, I don't know what to make of it.

Let's start from the beginning. As the two readers of my blog know, I can be kind of cynical about self-help, even though I work in the industry (maybe because I do.) Posts like this one, and this one are a testament to my love-hate relationship with all things self-improvement. Actually, both "love" and "hate" are too strong. I'm mainly ambivalent about it. Partly this is because I've been trying to improve myself since I bought my first self-help book ("How to be Popular") in fifth grade, and have been trying out various therapeutic tricks and techniques ever since then. Therapy, books, "process groups", books, pills, books, you name it. After awhile, a girl just starts to get tired of having to improve all the time, right?

A few months ago, it dawned on me (and I mean "dawned", as in a slow, steady, ever-brightening realization) that part of my cynicism was actually resistance. Resistance to going deeper. Resistance to being uncomfortable. Resistance to looking myself straight in the face. Even resistance to really grasping what I'd been saying for so long: that there really is nothing wrong with me.

"Coincidentally", my boss sent me to a work conference on the science of consciousness - a highly experiential two-day retreat in Portland, OR - sponsored by the Institute of Noetic Sciences. many things happened in Portland, but the most intense experience happened when I was taken into a trance state and met two creatures in a dark, damp wood that should have been scary but wasn't. The laughing Cheshire-cat-like grey fox with bright eyes, and the laughing willowy nude woman with long auburn hair both answered my despairing question of "What do I do now?" with the same answer: "You're already doing it." "You're OK", they said, laughing, as they led me on a half-run, half-flight through the forest, "You're already perfect." In this trance I felt, really felt, in the core of my being, the basic and incontrovertable "okay-ness" that is every creature's birthright. The thing that people say they feel when they become enlightened. I felt it, and knew it, and nothing has been the same since.

Other things have happened in the last two months to support this notion of my basic, core, human goodness (the idea that I - we all - are completely and totally perfect and whole, deserving of all good things, simply because we exist). I've met amazing people, I've understood more about why I'm here on this planet, and I've understood more about how I can stand up every day and connect rather than isolate, love rather than flee, laugh and cry and dance all at once. It's been amazing and not something I can tell many people. That's why I'm writing it on this blog :-)

At the same time, I haven't become a trance-happy, grinning, lightheaded hippy-dip (nothing against hippies; I did grow up in Berkeley and am a hippie in my soul). I'm still me. I laugh at inappropriate things. I like movies and books that are dark and complex and use foul language. I still like to swear like a truckdriver, drink, talk about sex (and nowadays, I can even HAVE sex. With someone else. Imagine!) , get kinky, get frustrated, eat pizza, all the things I've always done. If anything, I'm more me than I've ever been.

Yet everything's different for me now. I've lost 95% of my habitual fear of people. I talk to strangers. I keep my office door open so I can talk to my coworkers as they pass by. I'm not as afraid in general. I can be patient with those who frustrate me. I've been getting an amazing amount of positive energy coming my way. I take more personal risks. I can have social events every night of the week and not get tired, where more than two nights a week used to make me exhausted and cranky. I'm more comfortable being uncomfortable. It's not that I never get depressed anymore, or get pissed off, or drink too much, or get bored, or think yoga is a waste of time. It's just that that core part of me that knows everything is now and always will be OK just comes right on back up, like one of those sand-filled clown punching bags from kids' parties.

Everything's coming up roses, because something in me is already a bed of roses - and callas and forget-me-nots, and daisies, and all other sorts of flowers - and always will be. Thorns and sweet smelling flowers, bugs and butterflies, and all. That's what I've been up to in the last two months. It's why I haven't written. I'm still transforming, I think. And I'm curious to see where it all goes. If anyone wants to write to share stories or insights, please do. I feel an urge to connect with like-minded people who are also transforming themselves, and the world.