Wednesday, December 31, 2014

To What Was and Is to Come

Two thousand fourteen was about shedding: shedding ideas, beliefs, habits, and cycles that no longer served me in my life’s purpose. I entered the year in a Mission Year apartment in Houston, living life with six others who helped peel away those unnecessary layers covering up the light of my true, Divine self. Sometimes they clawed, sometimes they rubbed, sometimes they gently peeled. Sometimes they let me shed at my own pace.

I entered Mission Year feeling compassionate and graceful. I left feeling clunky, understanding my compassion was false because it was based in a desire to control and save rather than a desire to come alongside and love.  I came into the program thinking I was found. I left understanding I was on a life long journey of seeking and finding, and I was learning to be ok with never knowing.  

I struggled with my desire to save and control. I loved my neighbor deeply, to the point I could feel my heart breaking every time I walked to her house. I sought counseling. I hurt my housemates. I hated my housemates. I loved my housemates deeply.

I eventually learned to let them love me, but not until after almost a year of them reminding me again and again I could let go, I could allow others to help me, I could allow others to come alongside me. I learned reciprocity.

I am still learning reciprocity. I am still learning how to let others love me. I am still learning what it means to love, to lead, to serve, to come alongside. Daily. Hourly.

I fell into cycles and habits I had fallen into for years. My counselor helped me work through these cycles and habits, some of which used to serve me, and together we let them go.

I let go.

I let go of a lot. I let go of beliefs I had been raised with, religion that no longer spoke my language, cycles that used to destroy me, habits that hindered my ability to love, control that kept me from authentic relationship.

I learned to see my Divine Femininity, to honor it, to engage with it, to embrace it. I learned to see oppression within patriarchy, race relations, and privilege. I learned to seek reconciliation in ways that honor all people. I learned to be quiet and listen.

I left Mission Year, tearfully, on July 31st, entering into what I believed to be a hopeful new start to intentional community in Phoenix, the desert home I love. 

Three of us moved into a new house, anticipating the changes, the discussions, and the compromises.

We read about our personalities and vulnerability. We had long tearful conversations about power struggles, community ownership, our feelings of unworthiness, and how we relate to one another. We played games, carved pumpkins, cooked meals for neighbors and friends, and laughed. We made promises we couldn’t keep. We committed to the unknown and shivered in the shadow it created over us.

I fell in love.

Dynamics shifted. Our community changed. My heart broke as I watched my vision dissipate as we built walls, changed commitments, wavered in decisions, and fell short of expectations. A new relationship was being fostered as old relationships were fading into disengagement.

I ached for the loss of intentionality, for the loss of deep relationship, for the apparent death of a dream I had been dreaming for years.

Tension suddenly appeared in an established friendship, a friendship I thought was beyond transgression. The pain lingers.

I stand, knees weak, in the Unknown.

I am in love with a man I didn’t expect, from a place I didn’t expect, in a way I didn’t expect.

As one dream dissipates, other shared dreams emerge. As 2014 comes to a close we are dreaming together, envisioning our future together, our travels, our plans, our paths. Every day I wake up and remind myself it is ok to let go of the way I thought things would be. It is ok to let go of control, to allow this man to speak into my dreams and for me to speak into his.  It is ok to let him love me. It is ok to love him. It is good and healthy and beautiful to be vulnerable, dropping facades, showing my fear, being honest, and allowing him the space to do the same.

2015 holds many paths and choices and dreams for me.

I vow, to the best of my ability, to

live with eyes of compassion for myself and my fellow beings.
treat myself and others with kindness.
engage with tension involving social justice and race and class relations.
continually be aware of my desire for control, and, subsequently, to let go.
ask for help when I am feeling insecure, afraid, or lost.
listen to my deepest self and follow Her whispers.
love as fully as I am able.
seek life in all ways for myself and others.

I anticipate and welcome all the beauty and mess and manifestation this new year promises to bring. 

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Resting in the Unknown

“My head is bursting with joy of the unknown. My heart is expanding a thousand-fold.” - Rumi

I do not feel much joy when it comes to anticipating the unknown. 
I mostly feel afraid and hesitant, preferring my known pain to my unknown happiness. 

Thich Nhat Hanh says, "People have a hard time letting go of their suffering. Out of fear of the unknown, they prefer suffering that is familiar." 

I prefer the ache of internal chaos, the striving for earned love and affection, the challenge of a difficult life situation. I have a deeply rooted sense of needing to earn joy, happiness, and love instead of receiving them as the gifts they are. I prefer my known anxiety over unknown peace. Part of this comes from upbringing; part of this stems from an awareness of the suffering of others and comparing the good in my life to the pain in others'. 

Recently, as I talked about this internalized need in me, my spiritual director asked me in so many words, "Are wholeness and joy gifts from God? If so, then why are you not receiving them and leaning into them?"

Because it is hard for me to known peace and be ok with not earning it. 

I have a hard time allowing myself to experience good things without the constant voice in my head that says "I didn't work hard enough, didn't suffer enough, didn't struggle enough for this."  The people protesting police brutality and the desecration of black lives and bodies, the mothers protecting children's lives in Syria and the Congo, friends who have suffered tremendous loss, immigrants who have traveled through desert with bruised and bleeding feet just to find a better life for their family, the elderly who have lived long full lives of hardship...they are the ones who deserve good things. I tell myself I'm not like those people; I haven't done nearly enough to deserve love and happiness. If I even take a hot bath at night I often tell myself it is because my body is in so much pain I need the bath to function better. I can't allow myself to rest in something simply to enjoy it, simply because it is there for me to enjoy.  

This mindset, I'm finding, is detrimental to my relationships.

I'm happy, ridiculously happy, with Justin. And because I'm happy, because things are good, I look for ways of making it challenging because I can't seem to just enjoy him, to enjoy us. I haven't earned this relationship. I haven't earned something this good. I haven't earned the love and joy I experience in this relationship.  

Earn favor. 
Earn love.
Earn joy.

I never feel like I do enough, because doing enough makes me enough. I can't be enough if I don't do enough. So I fall short again and again, never living up to my own expectations of how much I should be struggling, earning, working for love and favor. At the end of each day, I feel the day has been ill spent if I did not experience some sort of hardship, some setback, some pain caused by a relationship, the injustices of the world, or my own anxiety. This mindset will always keep me from peace. 

I've met people in situations that, to me, looked hopeless, painful, agonizing. And these people exuded joy and light. They were not seeing their pain as a way of earning love and favor. They were aware that they could find happiness within their pain, light within their darkness. 

I look for the darkness hoping it will earn me the light. 

As I talk with Justin about my fears and we analyze why I feel what I feel and do what I do, I'm working on leaning into peace, contentment, and happiness even though I haven't "earned" them. I'm learning how to accept his presence in my life as a gift, an unearned, delightful gift I get to cherish and enjoy. I'm trying to not compare my joy to someone else's pain. I want to see the good in my life as a gift I can lean into, despite how much I have or have not done to work for it. 

I want to see joy as the ultimate mockery of an unjust society that--metaphorically and literally-- steals and kills the life within us. I want to be like the folks in middle eastern refugee camps who celebrate new weddings and births among the hopeless circumstances because they refuse to let despair win. I want to celebrate life instead of looking for the next challenge that can earn me some joy. 

Changing my mindset requires forgiveness. 

I need to forgive myself for not being able to handle everything, for often not meeting my own expectations, for not embracing the joy that has so often been offered to me in life, for not loving myself enough to accept me for who I am.  

I don't have to work myself sick.
I don't have to seek out challenge and pain.
I can accept peace and joy when it comes.
I can also do all that while living justly. 
I will live in the tension. 
I am enough. 

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Struggling Under Skeleton Woman

" they lift their masks and become vulnerable, they discover that community can be a terrible place, because it is a place of relationship; it is the revelation of our wounded emotions and of how painful it can be to live with others, especially with some people. It is so much easier to live with books and objects, television, or dogs and cats! It is so much easier to live alone and just do things for others, when one feels like it.” 
- Jean Vanier, Community and Growth 

These past few weeks have dealt a devastating blow to my optimism and hope.

My roommate from Houston, Taylor, joined us a bit over a week ago, then decided she did not actually want to be here in Phoenix with us, and she left on Monday to go back to North Carolina.

As I walked through the feelings of betrayal, hurt, and frustration, I watched my vision of community die. I saw how my worth was tied to the "success" of this community, how I thought it would succeed if people joined, committed, fought it out with one another and themselves, and stayed.

This is what I had been dreaming of for two years.
This is what I had been preparing for.
This was what I had been creating and anticipating with every meeting, every conversation, every book.

I had not been preparing for such death. And death so soon.

From the scattered ashes of this fire, I am looking for new life. Now is a chance to re-imagine community, to find equal footing with those around me and participate in something we create together instead of something I've created for them. Now I have the opportunity to step back and say, "I am not in charge of this. Should we do it together?"

Since Taylor left, Emily, Justin and I have discussed where we are headed. We know right now, after such pain, we can not handle the amount of intensity we have experienced thus far in our community. We decided we would spend less planned time together, leaving more space for our own individual desires and values, navigating how to build friendships with one another and with others while maintaining our own unique perspectives and paths.

Another aspect of all of this is that Justin and I have decided to start dating.

Yeah, we lived together first and then started dating. It's kind of weird. The mentors and guides we have found in our lives have reminded us that this isn't all that weird. People have been living in community for generations, seeking to build relationships and serve others, and in that process have found people they end up spending their lives with.

As we navigate community we are also navigating each other, how to be most ourselves with one another, how to invest into one another and the relationships around us, how to find life in all this and seek the direction that has been laid before us.

I've watched a deforestation take place in this community. All the things we were growing have been chopped down. It looks so barren. But in the midst of this, there is a flower blooming despite the death, finding life in the ashes that nourishes it and pushes it toward the sun.

"Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in."
- Leonard Cohen, Anthem 

The season of Advent has never meant much to me. I have never really cared for ritual or tradition. 

As I enter this Advent season with both a broken and full heart, I am looking forward, eagerly anticipating the arrival of hope, of light, of new birth. I will be bringing Advent ritual into my life on a daily basis. 

I will leave you with a quote from Louise Erdrich that has brought me hope over the past few days:

"Life will break you. Nobody can protect you from that, and living alone won't either, for solitude will also break you with its yearning. 

You have to love. You have to feel. It is the reason you are here on earth. You are here to risk your heart. You are here to be swallowed up. 

And when it happens that you are broken, or betrayed, or left, or hurt, or death brushes near, let yourself sit by an apple tree and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps, wasting their sweetness. 

Tell yourself you tasted as many as you could." 

I will taste as much of life as I can, despite the pain, despite the death, despite despite despite. 

If you are interested in finding out where the title of this blog came from, you can read the story of Skeleton Woman HERE

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Afeared or Not

"Afeared or not, it is an act of deepest love to allow oneself to be stirred 
by the wildish soul of another." 
- Clarissa Pinkola Estes 

Wild. That's what we all are. When we can get past the nice-ities of pseudo-community, the kind in which we're just trying to keep the peace, and the conversion stage, where we're all trying to convince the other that "I'm right and you have to change to suit my idea/belief system/dogma etc," then we can actually get down to the business of real relationship.

Showing up and exposing yourself to community is brave.

Community slowly tears out all the dark things you've been trying to hide, things you may not have even known you were hiding: those built in habits instilled from childhood, feelings of unworthiness and shame, insecurities--oh the insecurities--that I'm not enough, that no one can handle me, that I'm alone in this because everyone just wants me to change instead of being me.

Community struggle coupled with sleep deprivation from my overnight shifts had left me exhausted. For two days I refreshed myself in Sedona, climbing red rocks, napping in sunlit vortexes, and reminding myself of astounding beauty I had almost forgotten.

My schedule is changing now and I will no longer be doing overnight shifts. I am getting myself back into a rhythm, one that suits my nature. I thrive within routine and structure. During this time of transition in our community as my best friend Taylor moves in with us, I am creating space for myself to find life in the mornings before my housemates are awake. I slip quietly out the door with my dog and we jog to Delicias Park--Delights Park-- to spend the morning delighting in life, in gratitude, and in reflection. By the time I get home, my housemates are up and we get ready for whatever that day brings: grocery shopping, house repairs, conflict resolution, job hunting, volunteering, hanging out with neighbors, crafts.

As Taylor moves in with us tomorrow, I am anticipating more changes. As a community we have been struggling to find our feet, our grounding, our rhythm. This whole community thing is a whole lot different without a program telling us how to do it. We started out with structures in place much like Mission Year, but as time went on we discovered that the structure wasn't fitting us. It was like putting on an outfit from high school that was just too tight. We tried wearing it for a while, but eventually buttons started popping off and the zipper wouldn't zip and we realized we just weren't made for this. We are taking our time to figure out what each of us envisions for this community, how we find life within it and what is it we want to see happen in our neighborhood and within ourselves. As we brainstorm together, we are building a community that fits us, not trying to shove ourselves into some idealized community outfit that just doesn't fit.

"When two people relate to each other authentically and humanly, God is the electricity that surges between them." -Martin Buber 

May you seek ways to relate to others authentically and humanly to experience the God-electricity that emerges. 

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Consenting to Pain

“Did you ever say yes to a pleasure? Oh my friends, then you also said yes to all pain. All things are linked, entwined, in love with one another.”
― Friedrich Nietzsche

I meditated on this Nietzsche quote as I sat on my yoga mat the other morning. I found it while flicking almost mindlessly through the goodies on my tumblr feed. It stopped me suddenly. 

I say yes to pleasure all the time: loving someone, investing in a relationship, arranging succulents, writing poetry, journaling, long talks, getting excited about simple pleasures. I consent to beauty and pleasure. I was, however, struggling with pain when it presented itself in my life. An unmet expectation, miscommunication, a change of plans, feeling unloved. I had not consented to this pain. I wanted vulnerability and deep relationship without the pain that inevitably came with them. 

As I sat on my yoga mat, breathing deeply, letting the sunlight flicker through the windows, I decided to consent to pain, to embrace the pain that comes with pleasure. I want to feel deeply, love deeply, live deeply. I can only do that if I know I will be hurt and consent to the pain I will feel if I decide to invest my time and love into someone/something. I will be hurt and disappointed, but I will not die. I will continue to love deeply and intentionally and be hurt in the process. I think it's worth it. 

Sunday, October 12, 2014

That Small Voice

Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, "This is the way; walk in it."-Isaiah 30:21

Over the past few years I have chosen to become aware of my first formation, the habits, traits, and beliefs that were instilled in me as a child and throughout very formative teenage years. As I have become more aware of myself, peeling away layer after layer of ideas that were handed to me instead of manifested on my own accord, I have been able to listen to my intuition, that voice inside me that points the way, the way that leads to freedom and awareness.

This is the voice that comforts when I am afraid, leads when I am lost, reminds me of my worth and value when I question, proposes visions for the future, and nudges me ever so gently to love and accept myself in the midst of hardship. 

This is the voice that led me to India, to Mission Year, to intentional community in Phoenix, and to all the “chance” encounters of my life. This is the voice that encourages me to seek and question, to accept that which resonates with my own soul, to listen and sit with people in their struggles.

Since returning from Houston at the end of July and moving into community with two friends I met in some of those aforementioned “chance” encounters, I have struggled to find the next step. The vision of beloved community has led me through the last two years of my life, propelling me always to the next step, the next encounter.

Now that I’m here, living in community, I’m struggling to figure out the direction. What do I do now? What do I get involved in? What is that voice telling me?

Sometimes that voice is a bit quiet, a bit harder to hear through the thundering thoughts and seemingly overwhelming life circumstances. Yet I know it’s there, nestled within me somewhere, always present, always alive, ready to lead me through the questions, the heartache, the depression, and the fog.

“God remained elusive, but a radiance presented itself every day. Inside the radiance a voice whispered, ‘I am here.’” – Deepak Chopra

On a less philosophical note, living with Emily and Justin has brought new insights and challenges as we navigate one another’s personalities, preferences, habits, lifestyles, and love languages. We have had late nights of conversation about our own worth and value, how our childhoods have hindered us or freed us to be our true selves, and hilarious stories of growing up.

We have made sure to intentionally set aside time to share life and meals with one another, eating dinner together four days a week, one of those days being our hospitality night where we invite friends and neighbors to share dinner with us. We have worked out a schedule where we have meetings on Monday nights to discuss the week and any concerns we have. On Wednesdays we work through some sort of curriculum to better understand ourselves, each other, and the world. On Fridays Emily and I usually hang out and have some girl time, which lately has meant going to panel discussion for social justice concerns such as the treatment of LGBT immigrant detainees. Sunday is our hospitality night and the day we go grocery shopping for the week. We’ve got ourselves into a pretty good routine, which is sometimes thrown off by neighborhood potlucks or other events that we work around.

We are seeking to love one another intentionally, fully. We are seeking direction for our own lives and how we fit into the world. We may not be doing it perfectly, but we’re doing it. 

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Rocking Chair Musings

There is a rocking chair at one of the houses where I work. I've never sat in it because it just didn't seem inviting. Until today. I settled into that chair with a cup of tea and a short to-do list and lulled myself into thought.

"A map can tell me how to find a place I have not seen but have often imagined. When I get there, following the map faithfully, the place is not the place of my imagination. Maps, growing ever more real, are much less true." - Jeanette Winterson from Sexing the Cherry 

I've stopped looking at maps. I'm more interested in listening to the compass of my spirit and then walking in the general direction she motions. She lovingly tugs when the way is not clear and the path uncertain. She reminds me to be patient and wait when I am eager and anxious. She reminds me of my passion and vision when too many thoughts and to-dos cloud my mind.

She leans in and tells me it's ok to be vulnerable. It's ok to be seen as incapable and weak. It's ok to let people in to those deep caves where my fear and insecurity dwell.

Community is only cultivated through vulnerability. If I truly love people, I will be vulnerable and real.

To be fully human is to feel and to share and walk and sit and laugh with others through their journeys.

I choose to be fully human. 

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Handstands and Somersaults

I woke up at 3am to my dog panting and salivating on me. The thunder and lightning crashing outside ignited his anxiety, keeping us both from sleep. I slid out of bed and traipsed across the cold tile floor to where the rain beat sideways on the back patio. Mojo looked at me hesitantly, still hyperventilating, as I opened the back door and stepped into the storm.

When we woke up the next day, we looked outside at the flooded yard, streets, and park. Then Justin, Mojo, and I decided to go play. Handstands, somersaults, bodysurfing, and yoga in our own natural lake. This is the stuff laughter is made of.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Life Interrupted

Community was a disruption to my life.

I have had a tendency to see people, events, and circumstances as interruptions to my regularly scheduled life. An unexpected phone call when I'm running late, a blown tire when I am out of money, a needed conversation when I'm still angry, a change in the schedule when I've already planned it all out.

Living in Houston in intentional community helped me to discover that those people, events, and circumstances I saw as interruptions to life were actually LIFE itself happening. They weren't a sideshow or a disruption. They were life. They were the present moment happening. Once I was able to change my perception and expectation about time and people, I wasn't so angry when those unexpected things happened. In fact, I started embracing those "interruptions" as a reminder that life is happening and I had better pay attention to what is right in front of me.

I could see this house moving process as an interruption to what my life could be once I'm settled into a cozy living room that has already been arranged to my liking with people I'm already comfortable with. I could see these night shifts and new job as temporary until something better comes along. I could see conversations with new housemates as a nuisance because they just don't get me yet.

But if I saw those things in that way I'd lose out on the life that is trying to present itself to me through these people and circumstances. The process of moving out of my childhood home and into a house of my own is a process I need to be aware of and invested in. Every box unpacked, every cupboard filled, every piece of furniture rearranged is life happening. It is what is right now. I work nights and am exhausted. But I get to hang out with wonderful people who like to play air guitar with me in the kitchen and have dinner parties on the back patio during monsoons. It is the job that was opened up to me and I can find the beauty in it. I want to be invested in the getting-to-know-you process because that is the only way we can really know and be known. The only way to love people is to get to know people for who they truly are and sit or walk with them in it, all the light and dark and pain and passion and intensity and anger and rough edges and confusion. And that only happens through doing life with others. If I saw people as an interruption, I'd never really know what it is to love them.

This new house is a metaphor, as are most things in my life. New, open space providing infinite possibilities for community and relationship. There are boxes to still be unpacked, emotions to be unpacked, thoughts to be sifted through. There are conversations to have, tears to cry, stories to share, laughter to feel, and love to be shown.

Hope. There is always hope.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Let's Begin Again

I picked up my newest housemate from the airport on Monday after his 13 hour flight from Australia. Justin and I met two years ago while working in Kolkata with Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity and have kept in contact for the last two years, talking about community. I invited him to live in community with me and Emily in Phoenix, and he decided that sounded like a good idea!

We've spent the past few days getting to know one another as a community, eating pizza, packing boxes, hiking, teaching Justin how to drive on the right side of the road...

We're preparing to move into our new community house on Monday! Prayers, love, and good vibes appreciated!