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