A Half-Formed Image (Today’s Daily Work of Art)

I got a new phone today after cracking the screen on my old one. It took a solid hour to transfer my data from the old to the new, during which I felt an odd sensation of in-between. It was difficult to not have everything settled and set the way I like it. It made me consider other instances of neither here or there and how they affect me.

I love to travel but am happiest in the planning for rather than the doing. I like to, from the comforts of home, imagine where I could go and what I could do. I think it is a sense of all possible futures sitting before me. Once the journey begins, the possible comes a singular reality and the magic tends to fade.

As far as visual imagery is concerned, I think the moments between leaving and arriving are a half-finished drawing with the outline partially sketched. Sufficient information exists to allow me to see what it will become, but I am left without the sense of completion a final image produces.

It is actually the collapsing of the possible into the probable that feels the most constricting to me. It is helpful to consider that erasers and new sheets of paper exist. Maybe the journey has way-stops and interludes I could not anticipate and the final lines look nothing like what I’m anticipating they will. I live in both deep terror and profound craving of the unknown, the blank page, and only a fleeting sense of relief at the finalized etching, what it was. I want to grow in appreciation for what is becoming as the image comes into relief.

A green bush covered in slowly melting snow.

At the Edges, Melting (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

Today’s Simple Pleasure card encouraged me to observe an edge and to record what was occurring at the transition line. The wintery mix Mother Nature provided in the last 24 hours proved an easy jumping off point for this encounter. We had snow which turned to sleet, freezing rain and then simply rain. The resulting slush has created minute transition points.

As I shoveled the “snow,” I noticed that it was melted underneath and had turned clear, so that it looked as though I was pushing a mound of congealed water. I made little progress in clearing my driveway as it weighed an astronomical amount and I didn’t have the strength to move more than the bare minimum necessary to open a few footpaths. A lesson I can take here is to consider how deceiving change can be. It may feel as though what’s come before can simply be pushed out of the way, whereas the true burden of what I’ve lived through may only become known to me in attempting to rid myself of it.

I kept getting halfway across my driveway, gliding with ease and thinking “I’ve got this” and then the physics took over and I was stopped dead in my tracks by the pile of accumulated slush. Each time, I had to pause and reconsider how best to dispose of the water ice in small batches. This image so fully captures my experience of trauma. Every time I believe I’m good to go, something trips me up and I have to unpack piece after piece of what had previously felt insignificant.

I was relieved to awake this morning and notice that the precipitation had at least spared the tree limbs and power lines, as I had feared they would be coated in an icy glaze that could knock out the electricity or bring down parts of a tree. I’ve met some borders of growth that have taken an inch by an inch to reach, whereas I’m finding other places in my life from which I’ve been unnecessarily shrinking. It is hard for me to know how intensely to assert myself, as I don’t want to respond with a whimper when I need to roar, nor do I want to knock about when small steps would suffice. Perhaps what’s required is more careful deliberation and noticing of the true state of affairs before I take action–there is no sense shaking a tree that’s already free.

Finally, I took a photograph of some of the bushes on my property. I am amazed at how much snow ice they can hold, and the ecosystem they can provide for small animals sheltering beneath them. There have been so many times I’ve been startled by a rabbit bounding out of the undergrowth or a swarm of gnats erupting skyward if I knock into it with my mower. Each bush is a sturdy, non-descript parts of the landscape, but is yet teeming with life and protection. There is a stillness of purpose here of which I am jealous. I wish I could allow life to come to me more than I do; I perceive its edges as places of destination, not as interludes that arrive to me when I’m holding steady.

In sum, nature’s message to me, when I take time to meet Her, is nearly always the following: Be here, still. And I am always grateful for the reminder and the insights She provides. What have you learned from noticing areas of transition in nature? Has snow or precipitation taught you anything? Where might you slow down to see what’s changing?

Forwards and Backwards (In the Cards)

Today’s card focused on two themes that I would like to explore: 1) the fears that are difficult for me to face and 2) the interplay of restoration and a fresh start. In seeking health and happiness, I think it can be useful to know what might hold me back from taking risks to obtain it. It is also useful to consider what in my life needs to be torn down and what might be salvageable.

I would say that I fear the unknown, but in reality I think my strongest fear is of what I’ve known. In being a survivor of childhood sexual abuse in the context of my family, I’ve known the possible depths of both direct harm and betrayal from a very early age. Perhaps the best way to put it is I fear being helpless again; losing my autonomy and having people who wish me ill control my means of subsistence. Mine was a friendless upbringing that I would do almost anything to avoid revisiting.

In fearing the known more than the unknown, I believe that I’ve resisted fashioning my life in direct opposition to that which I knew growing up, even though some of the outcomes of my choices would seem to contradict this. I’ve tried to make who I am and what I do a reflection of my core values, strengths and skills. I want to stand for something and not only against something, but trust me when I tell you I know my enemies.

One of my most passionate intellectual pursuits is questioning the frame–stepping outside of dichotomies to deconstruct the boundaries of inquiry and to critically evaluate the biases that lead to limited potential. In applying this line of thought to the issue of renewal versus change, perhaps there is renewal and rejuvenation through change and change through a retooling of what already exists. In reality, I’m more on the “burn it all down and start again” rather than the “save whatever you can” end of the spectrum of how one approaches problem areas, but I love the idea of reclaiming pieces of my origins and of generating new growth through the vestiges of what I’ve lost. Going back to go forward and moving ahead to find the past. I have no idea what that looks like as a lived experience, but it sounds more enticing than a linear journey.

To the extent that fear influences your life, is your fear based on wishing to avoid what you’ve already had to endure or is it centered on staying away from new dangers? Which appeals to you more–recharging the past or starting anew? How may these dual pursuits influence each other in your life?

Protecting Tender Shoots (In the Cards)

Today’s card from my In an Open Hand deck focuses on the decay of old growth and the buried seeds whose germination will benefit from the nutrients of the past flowering. In particular, it draws attention to guarding inner promises that, if uncovered too soon, would wither away. One such kernel for me is best summarized as to whom I answer in terms of my goals and dreams.

In capitalist societies such as America, the concept of our time frame and goals being self-directed is both an idealistic striving for autonomy and an experience far from our lived experiences. I have achieved a greater level of freedom in this regard than most people I meet, but it has come at great cost. On a conscious level, I accept the alienation and lack of social capital I am building by refusing to adhere to expectations to live up to my family’s perception of who I should be, or to engage in “people-pleasing” behaviors to make myself more appealing as a friend. I feel that it is a slavish devotion to self-determination that drives me at times.

To contextualize my thoughts, I had a friend contact me today lamenting how much they have to get done in the next few days to get ready for the holidays. I felt torn between offering to help (even though they’d not asked for my help directly) and wanting to spend my time in the way I’d planned. I knew they would likely refuse my help if I offered, that they were perhaps testing my loyalty by asserting “I have a problem,” but I could not bring myself to reward the indirectness of their statement nor did I feel particularly like helping them! I desire people who can ask for what they need and build trust with me rather than play games of “come close-stay away.” Moreover, I do not like when my plans are viewed as disposable, ready to be tossed aside at a moment’s notice if anyone else needs something from me.

I want generosity of spirit and I do not have it. I want to give people the benefit of the doubt and I cannot do it. I view the people I encounter IRL as desiring to subjugate my needs to their’s, as always tearing at the edges of my plans and strivings in order to take from me what they can. My inner drive is both seed and old growth; already achieved and always trying to spout new bloom.

What emerges as I sit with this tenderness is a desire for collaboration and the interwining of resources. What would it look like to develop relationships in which both my goals and the other person’s were clearly stated and considered valid? What would it feel like to foster each other’s strivings equally? To build each other up? I’ve had this at times but it can turn so quickly into me hiding my needs, both because I do not trust the other person to honor or meet them, and because of their actions that I interpret as betraying the idea that they are really just in it for themselves.

What I want most in terms of an in-person friendship is someone who is artistic and who is working on a project like I am working on mine, where we can both hold each other accountable and build up each other’s confidence and enjoyment. What feels withered and what feels emerging in your life? What goals do you want to achieve and how much support do you have for doing so? To what extent do you put aside your own dreams to help others succeed?

Autumn Endings (Daily Works of Art)

Autumn is a season of contraction in my mind; a pulling inward of impulse and energy in order to prepare for the bitterness of winter. I tend to find my emotions trending more negatively and my outlook on life a bit dimmer as the sunlight arrives earlier every evening. Autumn is casting off, letting go and a hiding of secret treasures.

I released my given name a few months ago, replacing it with a chosen name of my own. Many days since have involved calling and emailing and mailing all manner of companies, telling them who I am now. I’m excited for the eventual newness, but am more in a place of reminding and replacing each piece of my life right now.

For my daily work of art, I collected a leaf that had been dropped by a tree. It was a strange find in that it was still green and soft, whereas most leaves at this point in the season are brittle, brown and fading. It felt like my previous name in a way, not retired because I died, but ensconced into my history as a memento to who I was while some of the life was still in it.

I am still who I was, but there will likely be a richness and fullness of presence I’ve only been able to achieve by transitioning to a new name that represents myself past, present and future more robustly. It’s bittersweet, in the way I’m sad to see the trees become barren, but yet I hold a tiny flame burning in anticipation of the explosion of green the spring will bring. What is autumn to you? What are you letting go of or secreting away, knowing it is necessary for growth?

Just Out of Reach (In the Cards)

I drew the Shimmer card from my In an Open Hand deck today. The focus of this card is on creating internal safety and a welcoming environment for parts of self that might feel abandoned or lost. In order to achieve this, I’ll be spending some time in this post considering adjustments that might be needed in my inner world.

What springs to mind immediately is the amount of time I allot to various aspects of my identity and sense of self. I think that I dwell in my thoughts, trying to anticipate, reason and respond in a mature way to what life gives me, but I do not dedicate as much energy to processing my emotions. My connection to my body is much stronger than it used to be in that I can actually feel my heart beating faster when I am scared or angry and notice the tension in my muscles after a stressor, but I’m not certain that I always take the next step of labeling my emotions after I feel them. Doing so might help me to interact more directly with the parts of self that carry the weight of certain emotional states.

In addition to how I spend my “inner world” time, I also believe that there is room for growth in my level of self-acceptance. I often become angry or upset with myself if I’ve failed to act in a way that aligns perfectly with my values, rather than viewing it from a developmental framework in which I track my progress over time. I know I’ve changed but I don’t necessarily feel better because of it. I want all the parts of who I am to feel loved and embraced, so I hope I can respond more gently and with greater encouragement to myself with time. What is the state of your inner world? How can you create an increased sense of safety there?

Movement (In the Cards)

I drew a card from my In an Open Hand deck that I have been creating. The card was Calm. For each card, I’ve created a series of questions to connect with different parts of self in relation to the theme, so I sat with those questions today. The focus for the Calm card is on change, loss and a sense of control over life situations.

One of the questions I developed related to exploring where life is causing me to change and where I am active in changing my life. I see these areas intertwining in that much of my life in recent years has been about acceptance. I’ve had to try to come to terms with my limitations as a person, the losses I’ve suffered and the fragility of my successes. I still do not do very well in the moment when life presents me with unanticipated stressors, but I do think that I show more resilience and a faster recovery than I did in the past in areas such as an unexpected financial setback.

At the same time, I’ve used up my reserve of faith in others after one relationship after another failed. I have a much thinner capacity for hurt when it comes to dealing with people, and each “lesson” seems to push me farther into myself rather than to help me move forward. I expect to be betrayed, used, abandoned and taken for granted by every person I meet, which becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy in many cases.

Sometimes I worry that I am not in touch with how alienated I am. I can’t solve people the way I solve other types of problems because I cannot tolerate hypocrisy, a lack of integrity or poor follow-through and I give up when they show up. I don’t think I expect more than others than I do of myself, but rather I cannot seems to find people who hold themselves to the same set of standards to which I hold myself. I’ve been changed by my experiences and I’ve stopped my effort at changing them. I feel adrift, floating from one insufficient island of connection to another, no longer charting my path towards relationship.

The theme of the Calm card is the gut, which I view as the seat of intuitive knowledge as well as a change-maker for taking chances. I do not know what form it will take, but I want to try yet again in some form to find relationship. It feels hopeless and I feel helpless, but there is no way through unless I keep my boat moving, landing on each new shore and perhaps finding, at least for a time, respite. Where in your life are you being moved? Where are you moving yourself? What does seeking calm mean to you?

Fashioning a Prayer to Inner Divinity (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

The sacred and holy is both within and all around me in my view of spirituality. I celebrate the Divine in self, humanity and nature–concentric, looping rings of connectedness that foster a sense of awe, gratitude and expansion. My sense of inner sanctity, is, then, both singular as well as representational of the greater Spirit that imbues all we do with meaning and purpose.

My prayer today to and for my Inner Divinity is that I will grow in my trust of my Sacred Self as steadfast and limitless in his/her/their capacity to encapsulate all of my inherent contradictions, flaws and mistakes. Much of the time, I find “I’m so much harder on myself than I am on others” to be a vacuous and dubious statement, but I do know that I struggle to extend grace to anyone, including myself. I’ve come into greater awareness recently of the intensity of my obsession with morality and the judgment that flows so easily from it. My ability to call up righteous indignation at the failures of justice and the oppression in the world while remaining cognizant of my own part in it is core to who I am and there has to be a place for levity, carefree open-heartedness and play.

I do not want to become more forgiving as forgiveness is nearly always tied to an inability to hold space for both pain and for the demand of the hard work of accountability. But, I do want to trust that the heavy eye of scrutiny that I cast on all I am and all I encounter can sometimes becoming light-lidded with approval of growth and transformation in the presence of evidence of learning from one’s mistakes. I despise “I’m/they’re doing our best” as much as I do “not good enough,” which is a severe approach to life. I think the only way to extend grace to myself and others is to find hope in gradual change and small victories and to take time to celebrate life without fear of “doing it wrong.” My Sacred Self is compassionate and capable of nuanced praise; I need to open my ears to hear his/her/their voice.