Saturday, October 23, 2010

How does One fall in Love With Oneself?

I actually asked my counselor that, when he suggested that I take this time of being single to explore the idea that I am the one I seek: that I am my own Beloved.

We tend to look outside of ourselves for love and validation. All of us do it to some degree or other. I tend to do it balls-out, no-holds-barred, full-on, to a degree that terrifies me and leaves me floundering in a sea of emotion. To say nothing of what it does to my partners or the relationship.

If, then, it's possible to fall in love with myself, to always carry with me that serene knowledge that I am the one that I seek, that I can give myself everything (yes, everything) that I seek in another when I look into his eyes, that means that nothing can derail me emotionally because I will never need someone else so badly that he can break my heart. I can choose to be with someone because I love him, because of his true qualities and not the fantasy qualities I ascribe to him. And I can choose to leave, if that seems like the best decision, without falling apart, because he is not the one who gave me the good feelings I had when I was with him. And I know I will be OK, no matter what, because I can trust that I can provide for myself everything that I need.

That sounds nice. But how do we do this?

Yesterday, I meditated on the fact that I am totally unique in the universe. Think of it! You - we all - are like nothing else that has existed ever before or will exist ever again. There will never be again be a collection and expression of genes, experiences, learning, emotion, and thought that is exactly like you. Even if you were cloned, that person would not be exactly like you because he or she would not have the same exact experiences, and thus would never have the same reactions to life, the same quirks, likes and dislikes, or the same thoughts. The same is true of every being that we meet. Even that bird on a wire is totally unique. There is no other bird exactly like that one.

Have you ever stared into your own eyes in the mirror? I have. Do it sometime. It's fascinating, because, if the eyes are the windows to the soul, you can almost see your own soul while staring into your own eyes. Whenever I doubt that I am a genuinely good soul, I do this exercise. My eyes tell me that I am, even if I do or say things I regret. Do this: find a mirror where the light is good, and just stand for a few moments, looking at your face and into your eyes. What do you see in them? Kindness, sadness, amusement, embarrassment (it might feel kind of silly to be doing this, after all), anger, joy? What does your face tell you? I've been noticing where the wrinkles will be, and that these are the same places they are in my mother's face. Around my lips, and under my eyes. I notice that I purse my lips a lot, and that my face is always active, my expressions pass quickly. What do your eyes tell you about yourself? Mine seem innocent and open sometimes, like I don't understand the meanness that's in the world. This is actually how I feel, a lot of the time. Other times they seem to speak of unseen worlds inside them, characters and stories and ideas and images. Sometimes they are very sad and red, sometimes calm, cool, and serene. Sometimes laughing, sometimes steely. You can tell a lot about yourself from your own eyes.

One night, having no plans, I just hung around in my house, alone, listening to music. On my mantel were several photos of myself with various important people in my life. I sat on my couch as I listened to the music, occasionally singing along, and when I did this, I faced these photos. I was at it for hours that evening, and at the end of the night, I realized I felt an incredible love for this person I had been gazing at for so long. I've always considered myself less than beautiful, but at the end of this night, I realized I was beautiful. It was like after hours of staring into my own face, I had finally seen myself, and liked what I saw.  Perhaps one way to fall in love with ourselves is to have photos around us of our best selves, where we'll see them every day. I have two photos of myself as kids up on my bookshelf. In one, I'm laughing. In the other I'm looking into the camera with an expression of calm and strength. Both of these remind me that those kids are still in me - the joyful one and the calm, strong one.

I don't know the answer to the question I posed above. I don't know how to fall in love with myself, although these things all seem to be good starts. I - we all - can practice looking at ourselves with compassion, even when things are difficult. We can treat ourselves like our own best friends, rather than our own worst enemies. We can care for our bodies and our souls by treating them right. We can treat ourselves like we would a small, dependent child and make sure we always keep ourselves safe, yet at the same time open ourselves up to new, challenging experiences.

I tend to feel resentment when I realize that, truly, I am the only one who can help myself when I'm in trouble. Even if I call my friend or mom or sister for support, at the end of the call, I will hang up and be alone with everything. It hurts. But why, if I'm really the one that I seek? Why is this a situation to resent? I hate sleeping and waking up alone, often dislike coming home to an empty house and to have an evening to kill at the same time that I don't feel like filling my days with empty plans just to fill the time. Maybe this is what I'll work with. Turning the resentment to joy that I have someone like myself that I can count on when things get rough. Enjoying time alone with myself because I am the only one who fully, truly understands me. And who wouldn't want to be with, sleep with, wake up with, do yoga with, be creative with, someone who totally and fully understands and loves them? It would be a dream come true.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

And the Sun Shone In

Wow.  Sometimes the light comes from the most unexpected sources. My brain is buzzing with what I've learned, all in the course of one day, and how I went from crushing devastation to strength and bliss within an hour. The details will remain vague because I'm not interested in 'outing' anyone or blaming anyone, so I apologize if the vagueness is irritating. This isn't a tale of woe or of revenge. I'm telling this story for those of you who are in difficult situations, who don't feel like things will ever get better, who are stuck in self-blame or in blaming others for situations that cause you grief and pain. For those of you trapped between love and a hard place. Until last Thursday, I felt trapped, too. And then a light, delivered by a most unlikely fellow traveler,  clicked on.

The story starts with a situation that I've been in for a couple of years. There is love there and also conflict, confusion, and tears. For years I've twisted myself into a pretzel and bent over backwards, forwards, and all ways to make something right that really didn't work for me, with someone who really - at his core - didn't want what I wanted, but that I desperately wanted. I cried over it, despaired over it, ruminated, ate my own heart out, got angry, got desperate, threw things, raged, made accusations, blamed myself, blamed others, lay in bed more than once in a stew of confusion, grief, and loss. God, I wanted this so badly, more than I've ever wanted anything. To get what I wanted, I tried hard to be sweet, forgiving, open, and understanding. I stood by, trying to be patient, absolutely sure that things would change once a certain situation worked itself out. I meditated, envisioned my heart glowing with a white light and enveloping the people in my world. I did magic, blessed charms, burned prayers and sage,  made an altar, did lovingkindness meditation to towards all those involved, prayed for all of us to find joy and happiness in our lives. I even tried to let go, to move forward, to cut the bonds of attachment, but I kept going back. Through it all, what I really wanted, was to possess this thing that seemed to be the answer to all my prayers.

Through the whole thing, I tried so hard to be consistently patient, kind, sweet, and forgiving. I tried to rise above the pettiness and low meanness that popped up around me from time to time. I tried to tell myself I was above the drama, and that it wasn't me, but 'them', that created it.  But no matter what I tried, for some reason, I kept acting badly, kept doing things that filled me with shame and regret. I had rage attacks, for weird reasons that made no sense. I got upset over miniscule things. In my heart, I tried to keep love and kindness and openness ascendant,  but what kept coming out of me was pettiness, jealousy, anger, and judgment. It was so strange, like trying to speak to someone and finding your words coming out as gibberish, even though they're clear as day in your head.

No matter how hard I tried to rationalize this situation and make it OK, no matter how hard I tried to be the model woman, to be wonderful and calm and everyone's friend, it always backfired. People seemed to hate me. They gossiped and sniped and made bizarre accusations. People I had helped and tried to be kind to turned on me. I found myself in a situation I've never known before: surrounded by people where I didn't know who was my enemy and who was my friend. And I thought I deserved it, on some level, because I had behaved badly at certain times. I had lashed out at people, had attacks of anger, fought, wrote ill-considered e-mails, made accusations, snapped at people. So I decided that these people hated me because I was flawed and damaged and had made too many mistakes in their presence. I believed they were right to dislike me.

And I kept on trying to make the situation work for me, to try to be even better and sweeter and nicer and more forgiving, and I started to develop gratitude that someone I cared for still cared for me even though I was so damaged and troubled. I lost so much of my self-respect that I was actually grateful to have what I had - even though it was far from what I wanted and deserved -  rationalizing that nobody else would want me because of my craziness.  And the more I tried to be kind and open, the more the opposite came out of me. In desperation, and hating the needy, untrusting, unbalanced person I had become, I prayed to the Universe to please show me what to do, to show me the path away from all this pain.

The answer came from an unexpected place. One day last week, when I was drenched in pain from things that were happening in my life, I got caught up in a drama, where I made some accusations in an e-mail to someone who had been in my social circle and clearly had some issue with me. I believed wholeheartedly that I was doing the right thing by keeping this person out of our circle, because I believed she had wronged myself and a friend. I tried to make the e-mail sound fairly objective and straightforward, but basically I was acting on the word of someone else who was untrustworthy. Yet another mistake, I thought to myself, after I sent it. Why am I always such a screw-up?

She wrote back, an e-mail steeped in bitterness, hatred, and contempt. She called me horrible names. She accused me of horrible things, and made herself out to be blameless. But most importantly, she told me things about the situation that I was in that, despite the nastiness of her tone in general, I believed as soon as I read them. Though perhaps some of the facts of the letter may not have been true, or may have been distorted, I believed the spirit of it instantly, because it felt true. In my thank-you e-mail to her, I told her she had "bitch-slapped me into reality."

I was stunned, crushed, devastated. The situation was not as I had thought. I saw evidence that someone I thought was my unabashed supporter had said cruel things about me to people we both knew, some who were my friends. Suspicions I had long held but tried to rationalize away seemed true now. Doubts I had had over the years made sense to me now. Feelings I had that I thought were my own craziness now seemed not as crazy. I realized that the two of us had often had exact opposite experiences, even though we were together. Everything fell into place.

I cried in long, choking sobs, with my office door closed, too broken to even think about driving home. I called my best friend and cried to her. And in the middle of the conversation, it was like a someone  poured a soothing balm onto my aching heart, and the pain left me. I felt relieved. I felt free from the situation that had been chaining me down for so long. Though some of my realizations were not very positive about someone I cared for, and some were pretty damning of myself, I felt no anger or self-blame, only release. I walked on air that evening, feeling no bitterness or regret or sadness, only sympathy for all of us in the situation, bemusement at the actions of people I had trusted,  and gladness that I was more free of it than I'd been in 2 years.

But I couldn't figure out why I felt so good. I should have felt crushed, betrayed, angry, bitter, and resentful. But I didn't. I felt like I had been in a twilit room, filled with creeping shadows and half-hidden figures,  and someone had turned on the light. The reason, as near as I can tell, is that the e-mail finally forced me to see what was happening, forced me to let go of a fantasy that I had been holding on to about who I was in the context of this relationship, who the people were around me, and what this situation meant. Everything I had thought was going on, every hope I had clung to, every bitter disappointment I had struggled through, was all based on a fantasy that was never true, that was all created out of a desperate, primal need I had to be wanted, loved, and held. Perhaps realizing that things weren't always as I had thought them - that I had been naive, in a certain sense -  had the effect of banishing all of the assumptions that I had been making for the previous 2 years, and in seeing through the assumptions, I realized the truth: That my fantasies of what had been going on were false, that the pedestal on which I had placed certain people was make-believe, and that even my holier-than-thou beliefs about my own pure motives weren't true. And it freed me. It freed me to see those around me for who they are and not for who I think they are or who I want them to be; it freed me to live a little bit bigger in my own self, without feeling like I need to be different to please others.

And it solved riddles and answered questions I hadn't even known I had asked. Puzzle pieces finally fit together. I had felt so crazy for so long, and all of a sudden I didn't. It all made sense.

A friend suggested that my acting out had been my inner knowing - which knew things weren't quite what they appeared - trying to get my attention. That my intuition had been right all along, and because I tried to ignore it, it kept coming out in these acts of rage, insecurity, and fear. That sounded right to me because, though I've always had a temper and have occasionally overreacted out of anger, I had never acted so badly as I did in this situation. This simply wasn't me. I was a different person in this situation than I was in every other part of my life.

After I received the e-mail, I sent one back thanking her. I felt so grateful to her for pulling the wool from my eyes. Her response to me was to call me a "moron who thinks she's enlightened or something." When I read that, sitting at a patio table on a warm evening, drinking a glass of wine, I had a visceral feeling of the pain that she was in, and I felt an intense sympathy for her. May she - and all of us - be open to the light that comes from unlikely sources, and widens our understanding a little bit.

I now feel like I've found myself again - the person who was lost for almost 2 years - probably even longer. I feel strong enough to put my life back in line with my integrity and values, to go back to self-care, to remember what's important to me, not just what's important to someone else.  I feel like I walked through an underworld and came out of it into the light, like the Chilean miners.

The lessons I'd like to impart from this experience are:

1) Trust your gut, even - especially - when you don't want to.
 2) If you find yourself in a situation where you keep acting in ways that aren't in line with your values or how you usually are, consider that your intuition is trying to force you to take a deeper look at the situation that triggers these behaviors. If you feel like a situation is making you crazy, it probably is; it's probably not you, it's what's happening around you that's the problem.
3) Get to know your own projections, fantasies, and dreams about things in your life that are important to you. Realize when you're making it up - and most of us are making it up a lot of the time.
4) Cultivate open, nonjudgmental awareness as the key to bringing contentment and strength in all areas of life. When you absolutely know the real you, and can be relaxed enough to let others be the real them, without judgment, then you will know peace.
5) If you are struggling and feel that it will never get better, practice this: What if, just for a moment, everything really was OK just exactly how it is? See if you can relax your judgments, expectations, worries, and hopes even just for a split second, and see how it feels. Is it possibly to come from that place of peace and nonjudgment and make the decisions that are right for you?
6) When faced with a difficult decision, go inside and ask for help - from God, from Buddha, from the Universe, from your spirit, from whomever you pray to. Ask them to show you the answer. I did, and everything became clear. 
7) if you, or anyone in your life, thinks they know all the answers, that's a sure sign that they don't.

Namaste, be well, and take good care of yourself!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Clouds and Water 

These photos were taken at Sugar Pine Reservoir in Tahoe National Forest by myself and Scott Locker. The camping trip was much-anticipated but started off rockily: A misunderstanding started it all out, then the van broke down just at the exit from Auburn. It turned out to be an easy fix (well, maybe easy isn't  the right's guy stuff.) Then we got lost on the way to the campground, then the campground where I had planned to stay was closed for the season (even though I had checked online that morning and it was listed as open). We found another campground, but the only spot left was next to a huge family of dirt bikers with lots of screaming kids, and across from the bathrooms, which were desperately in need of a pump-out. Let's just say you didn't need a flashlight to find them at night, you could navigate by smell. Though it was warm and hot when we got there, it started to rain that night and the for the rest of the trip was cloudy and cooler. It was all enough to give one pause and to make plans for a hotel in Auburn. But, we stuck it out and the next day was wonderful. We got a new spot by the water (with its own private beach!), took a gorgeous hike around the reservoir, hung out around the campfire with wine and good food and lots of good discussion and laughter, read to one another from "The Holographic Universe", and generally bonded and enjoyed our time together.

These photos were taken on the last night, as we drank red wine sitting by the edge of the water. The clouds were spectacular and the water was like a mirror. As the sun sank, the contrast got brighter and the colors deeper; several layers of clouds moving at different speeds drifted north. Some lit up orange and pink while some stayed the grey of a soft longhaired cat....and then, literally in the blink of an eye, the color went out, and all was cool grey, and it was night. It was better than any TV show could ever be.  It was magical. Thank you, Universe, for gently teaching us that letting go of expectations can result in experiences we could never have imagined.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Eat, Pray, Love - The Complexities of the Heart

So I'm normally not one for Hollywood movies, but the other night my mom, my friend, and myself went to watch Eat, Pray, Love after a light mexican meal and several margaritas. It was a regular ol' Girls' Night Out. I really enjoyed the book, so even though the movie stars one of my least-favorite actresses, I decided to go.

Yes, the movie was cheesy and overwrought, with Miss Julia finding beautiful, perfectly furnished quarters to stay in in picturesque towns crawling with cute orphans, crotchety but wise grandmothers, dashing Italians, monkeys, and cows. Yes, she learns perfect Italian in a matter of months, finds a beautiful best friend almost immediately,  and, even though she jokes about gaining weight in Italy, it's clear she never actually does. Yes, she ends up finding, finally, a man who can love her for herself and - literally - motors away into the sunset with him on a boat,  to some small picturesque island off of Bali. OK. I can suspend my disbelief for this one movie, because besides the normal Hollywood claptrap, there were some genuinely touching things about the film that have stayed with me.

In one of the first scenes, she's talking with a Balinesian medicine man and he gives her a picture of a figure with four legs and eyes in its chest. The four legs, he explains, remind us to stay grounded and balanced. The eyes in the chest remind us not to think from our heads, but from our hearts. Even in the moment, in the theater, during the scene, I found this last part to be eye-opening. As soon as he said that, I shifted my consciousness to my chest, and it was like some screen had been pulled from my eyes. The next morning, I spent most of my meditation with my consciousness in my heart, and even though there's a situation in my life that I've almost literally been ruminating about for two years, my heart was steady and solid and loving, and the ins and outs, rights and wrongs of that situation weren't important. I've recently been haunted by an image of my own heart, seeing it as scarred and twisted as the back of an old boat-propellor-torn Manatee from a Florida swamp. I can see it, clear as day. But when I actually went to my heart and saw the world from it, my heart was whole, clean, strong, and juicy. Nothing had damaged it. The world seemed exactly as it was, and I only felt a calm goodwill towards myself and everything else. Try it. Right now. Even if you don't believe me.

In another scene, the lone American in the ashram, a gruff Texan with a dark past, tells our heroine, when she misses her boyfriend, to send him light and love and to let it go. As someone who clings incessantly to people, places, and memories, this seemed a particularly empathetic and kind way to deal with the kind of pain that comes from missing something we have known that is now gone. When we send light and love, we acknowledge the importance of a memory, person, or feeling without needing to go to it. Far from just distracting ourselves from the pain of the missing, we go into it, acknowledge it, and use its energy to send out light - an act which not only helps us, but helps the whole world (at least that's what I believe.) I have used this technique before, and even written about it, but sometimes I forget to use it, and this scene reminded me.

The Texan also tells Liz that if she could just get these men out of her head, and all the guilt and recrimination about them,  that the Universe would rush in and would fill her with love. (At this point, my mom leaned over to me and said "Oh, that's just crap!") But that touched me, too. I loved the image of the vacuum created by letting go of all of this complicated stuff in our minds being filled with a radiant, Universal light.

In the movie, Liz leaves a troubled relationship to travel the world for a year. Before she makes the decision to go on her trip, yet knows she's profoundly unhappy in her relationship, her boyfriend holds her to him and says, essentially, "Let's accept what we have here, let's build a future together and accept that we are miserable but that we're happy to not be apart." This sounds ridiculous on the face of it, I know, but in the world of the heart, it makes a kind of sense and I've been in that situation more often than I'd like to admit. I have not seen this kind of situation reflected in any movie or acknowledged as tenderly. I've always thought there was something broken in me that I've considered making this deal in my own life. I teared up at the reflection of these two peoples' pain in a situation that worked for neither of them, but where their love of each other - and dependence on each other and the dreams they held for the relationship - keeps them tied to one another even when they might be happier with someone else. Later in the movie, after spending time at the ashram, Liz writes him an e-mail telling him that they both deserve better than they had when they were together. Again, I was moved by the portrayal of the pain that these decisions - even when they're right, and all parties know it - can cause. Even - maybe even especially - a right decision can be heart-wrenching and sad. I know it, and can relate to the difficulty in walking away, and the sadness of being without a person you love, even knowing you weren't right together.  I thought this situation in the movie was handled in a sweet, profound way that I don't often see. Most often, we're told to "just get over it", with no acknowledgment about how complicated the heart is.

I have no naivete about Hollywood or moviemakers or what's important to them. I don' t believe there's any film company in all of L.A. that wants the best for us. But somehow, in the case of this movie, some true things came through the glitz and the gloss, things I'm still thinking about and digesting several days later.