Inner Complexity (In the Cards)

I brainstormed questions to my parts for a card for my In an Open Hand deck today; I have several left to create for the spring season. Today’s focus was about showing all sides of who I am. In reflecting on this theme, I was struck by the contradictions and nuances I’m finding in the unexpected expansiveness of being able to work from home.

From last August till this March, my mental health condition (PTSD) had been getting significantly worse, and I was struggling to find hope as I faced a seemingly unending series of triggers. Being able to disengage from face-to-face contact with people entirely has been a godsend to me, an experiment I never would have contemplated life would have enabled me to undertake. I’m “supposed” to be feeling lonely and anxious, but I feel calmer and happier than I have since last summer. My daily thought isn’t “when can I get back to normal life” but rather “oh shit, what am I going to do when I have to get back to normal life?”

I keep reminding myself that I’ve had more phone calls and text conversations and Zoom sessions than ever, so the feelings of peaceful relaxation may not be due solely to the change in the frequency of in-person interaction I’m having. I don’t know what it would be like if my internet and phone went out and I was truly alone with my thoughts, but I’m not convinced it would cause me immense suffering. Having to interact with people, especially in tense situations, causes me immense suffering.

The image that comes to mind is a broad path to the top of a mountain. I’ve managed to wander off of it and now the bridge across the stream it crosses has washed out, so climbing it is out of the question. I’ve meandered into a beautiful meadow filled with butterflies and tall grasses and a healing sun, and the shouts and commotion of “other people’s presence” are growing more and more distant. I’m no longer remotely convinced climbing the mountain of success through relationships and money holds any proximal or distant joy for me. I still require a sense of community, a sense of being a part of humanity, but what if I live it in my own garden and share my bounty in ways that work for me, rather than in a rigidly-defined and prescribed form?

There is still immense grief for others and the potential for my own losses in all of this; I’m not rose-colored in my meadow. I feel that finding my own place and pace is allowing me access to expressions of community and solidarity, instead of isolating me from them. Perhaps the best way I can say it is, more days than not (there was a notable exception), in the past two weeks I think I’ve come closer than I ever have to experiencing what it would be like to live without PTSD triggers constantly at the ready, and I love it and I don’t want to leave it. I never thought I’d have an opportunity to experience this side of things. I hope who I am inside can bundle the memories of this in a way that informs choices I make for myself in the future. What are you learning? What inner needs are making themselves known to you?

Witnessing the Cold Waters of Grief and Loss (Today's Daily Remembrance)

I don’t “suffer” from the optimism bias that most non-depressed people enjoy. This means I don’t tend to look the bright side or attend to the positives in tragedy. I spend a good deal of time on this blog making space for my efforts to find that for which I’m grateful; for me, it has to be an intentional and deliberate process or it won’t happen. I firmly believe, though, that finding reasons for joy and laughter need to exist alongside, not in replacement, of the ability to feel sadness as it happens.

My grief at this moment is a witnessed grief more than a personal one; I am not in mourning for the ways in which I’ve been personally impacted by the pandemic, but more for the global losses that have happened and the havoc it is beginning to cause in the lives of people for whom I care. What I lack in “be hopeful” I replace with “be prepared;” I tend to lean too heavily into the idea that, as long as all contingencies are measured and mitigated, true tragedy can be averted.

I’m living in a moment, however, where this can-do attitude is failing as my national leaders prioritize the wealthiest among us over the rest. Horrible, unfathomable and potentially preventable things are starting to happen to good people on a scale I didn’t know could occur, coupled with with no one in leadership providing comfort and guidance. This is both the oldest story of my life and also the one that feels freshly terrifying; I knew this could happen to me (childhood trauma), but I didn’t know it could happen to everyone (save the moneyed).

All I know to do when loss occurs is to make space for it, to honor what is being missed and to mourn with those from whom treasures of love are being pilfered. Grief, in my mind’s eye, is a well of cold water, into which that which we deem precious can sink but from which no reflection gleams. I know that, in due time, some will find renewal there as they reconstruct their lives. Maybe bearing witness to grief is nothing more than keeping a fire going by the depths, allowing for the awareness that rage and fear and all the strong feelings that make us want to flee that place of loss are allowed here and matter here. What are you grieving today? What is fanning the flames of your emotions? What is slipping into the bleakness?

Unbridled Joy (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

My poor pup has been cooped up more than usual as of late, between the winter weather and my attempt to avoid unnecessary trips during the health crisis. I had a few housekeeping items crop up unexpectedly today, so I decided it was worth it to head to a local home improvement store that allows dogs in. His incessant whining the entire trip there let me know he was very excited about the trip.

As soon as we arrived at the store, my dog started leaping for joy as his feet hit the ground. He found the nearest human and tugged me in their direction. There was a family with several small children, who did not quite know what to make of such a small dog (he’s a Yorkie) enthusiastically sniffing their shoes and looking up at them in bliss.

I found the light bulbs I was looking for and headed off to another area of the store. We ended up behind another family, and my pup joined right in with them, ignoring their personal space and acting as though they obviously wanted him to tag along. I normally keep very close tabs on him, but, between trying to locate and carry several items, he kept sneaking closer to people than I realized he was.

He met the first family again at the cash register. The young boy who had at first drawn back from him didn’t reach to pet him, but did give him more attention as he stood facing him. My dog was in heaven, surrounded by new humans who might, just might, let him sniff them and perhaps even pet them.

I am in love with the innocence and earnestness with which my dog approaches people. Me in dog form would totally be bearing teeth and foaming at the mouth at anyone who approached; thankfully, he is not me. The fact that he seems to believe he owns the entire warehouse, barking loudly at any other dogs who dare to enter, and prancing around as though it’s been too long since he took stock of his playground, never ceases to bring a smile to my face. I’m reminded of what seems to be my grounding statement this year–there is more beauty than pain in the world. I am so happy to have witnessed it today.

Birdsong in Winter (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

My day began by realizing I’d slept in until it was quite sunny outside. This made me happy as I felt I’d finally gotten a good night’s rest. As my dog and I walked outside in the rising sun, I heard birdsong cascading up and down the tree branches. There were at least two songbirds in chorus with one another. I felt my heart soaring and my inner well of strength filling; as I wrote recently, there is more beauty than pain in the world. For every dark moment, a candle burns, casting light beyond its wick into its surroundings.

My experiences in life have left me a vocal witness to suffering whenever I encounter it. I cannot look away and pretend all is well. But, in the same moment, I can find the flower peaking through the snow. I don’t need hope that things will get better. Rather, I need acknowledgement that, in the midst of despair, there is a space of honoring and being-with and a space of joy. When life completely devastates me, the trauma-voice in my head has one mantra “make it stop.” I don’t have the ability to end every negative encounter, but I do have the capacity to stand up for myself as I validate my own perceptions and to find the places where light streams through and the birds burst into song.

At the Edge, With Helplessness and Hopelessness (Today’s Daily Remembrance)

It is not a good day for my capacity to feel optimistic and bright. My attempt to get accommodations at my job is beginning to look like I am going to be retaliated against or, at the minimum, discounted. I could not sleep last night and now have no appetite. In the face of this situation, I need to take some time to access my inner world.

I feel helpless and hopeless. I gotten to this place many times before in my life, but have often failed to label what I was feeling in the moment. I would get stuck on the external threat, perseverating on how to mitigate it, and would ignore all of my internal processes. After several hours of frantically searching the web exploring my next steps, I saw into my inner world and noticed how much each part of me was scattering in every direction at once. I could not calm or come back to myself at all until I acknowledged the state I was in. I’m feeling trapped, alone without anyone to help me bear the burden and worried that even more devastation lies–unpredictably and uncontrollably–ahead.

I fear that I’m at the edge of the crevasse I’ve done everything in my power to avoid, the place where I lose my job, my home, my healthcare and anything else that provides a semblance of normal life. I’ve never asked for accommodations because I feared doing so would lead to this outcome. Logically I know I’m many, many steps from this dire fate, but the landscape feels tilted towards my inevitable demise. That is what helplessness and hopelessness look like to me–drifting from “functional human” into an animalistic state where moment-to-moment physical survival is my only focus. Openly acknowledging the effects of my trauma feels like a direct portal into reliving it writ large.

The few responses available to me when I feel helpless and hopeless center primarily on either engaging in a fight for control or on surrendering in acceptance of my fate. The “be louder” side won last night as I spent hour after hour complying a list of questions and additional documentation for my employer. I won’t get any clarity for a few days at the minimum, and my energy is flagging quickly, collapsing into “come what may.”

The ledge I perceive to be closing quickly has never left me ever since I came to terms with my childhood trauma and ended contact with my parents. I knew living my truth meant I could lose at winning or fail at succeeding at life; I knew I had to take that risk over denying what they’d done to me in hopes of having a “backup” plan. I’ve sworn up and down I’d die on the streets before I’d let them back in my life and I mean it as much today as I did the first day I said it.

Rage starts overtaking me when I sit too long in this place. They (my parents) irreparably broke my mind and the thin lines of glue with which I’ve managed to cobble together a person are yielding to the pressures of my life. I’ve come to a razor’s edge but I’ve never been hospitalized or taken off any significant amount of time because of my disability. I’ve walked and ran and scampered to stay back from the ledge and I’m so, so tired of fighting for a foothold. I feel like I literally asked my job for one g-d extra rope to help me stay secured, and all that’s happened is I’ve slipped further towards the breach. I’m sure if I fall in, people will suddenly, magically gain an ability to see my struggles, all while totally and utterly failing to account for the shoves downward they gave me and the shrugs they offered when I extended my hand in desperation.

Let me, come hell or high water, not be a bystander to someone else’s helpless and hopeless moments, even if all I can do is point them towards available resources. That’s all my suffering ever teaches me, how to not add to other peoples’ struggles. I have no greater insight into when to fight and when to yield, or how to avoid my personal pit. How do you handle feeling helpless and hopeless? What feels like your personal “worse case scenario” in life, and how do you cope with its existence? What are some resources you use to keep from going over the edge into despair?

Potential for Thriving (In the Cards)

Today’s card centers on naming inner passions and contemplating how to ignite them into flames of creative power. In giving voice to my desires, what rises up is a wish for living a life that is founded on the possible rather than the absent. What I mean by this that I want to welcome into my life love, beauty and sacred connection, not simply to banish hatred, distrust and suffering.

If I’m honest with myself, most days I wake up thinking “when will the shit I have to deal with today be over?” It is as if the innocent, caring and hopeful parts of me stay in slumber until any potentially threatening situations have ended. I can go weeks or even months without feeling like the red alarm blaring danger stops trilling.

I am thrown totally off-kilter by events like the one I had today, where I woke up in joy, believing that I had nothing stressful with which I was going to have to deal (an extremely rare occasion), and could therefore touch with my fingertips the edges of the positive and the happy. I soon discovered my dog was having an allergic reaction to the heartworm preventative injection he got yesterday, and had to rush him, covered in hives and itching, to the vet. My day now feels like it is lying in ruins, my mind reiterating “threat is likely over…threat is likely over” in an attempt to coax from hiding the scared parts of self I possess.

I so desperately desire a life in which I can stay connected to all the parts of myself, including the upbeat and positive ones, even in the face of hardship and difficulty. I have occasionally spent time notating the events of each day for which I am grateful, but this has often turned into “at least this horrible thing that happened wasn’t even more horrible.” I wonder what a question like “what magic will the world hold for me today?” would do to my psyche if it was the first and truest note playing in my mind as I awoke.

The image I see in my mind to represent my dilemma is that of a person wearing every conceivable bad-weather gear every day, with little regard for the forecast. I am like someone who is convinced that a storm could be lurking or ice could be built up at any spot on their travels. Sure, this person has everything needed the moment bad weather strikes, but they also lug around heavy, hot and uncomfortable material through every other situation. What I also know to be true is that umbrellas and raincoats aren’t the only ways to stay dry; I could and do improvise if something unexpected happened.

In this analogy, I only glance at the rainbow or the blue sky or feel the gentle breeze for a second, and then detach from my joy as I remind myself of all the times I thought it was going to be a nice day and it wasn’t. One raindrop spoils the whole picnic. And, yet, there is beauty to be found even in a ruined outing.

I am not sure how to walk with confidence knowing that, although there will be mud puddles into which I could step, fixing my eyes primarily onto the colors and shapes in the vast sky above grants me a much fuller, more healing and more marvelous view than staring at my shoes will ever provide. What is the first question on your mind most mornings? How does asking it shape the rest of your day? Where do you cast your gaze (or other senses), and how much magic does it allow you to see and experience?

Future Dreams (Today’s Daily Work of Art)

At the end of each year, I spend time reflecting on how my life unfolded, who I am as a person and where I’d like to develop in the next year. This year marks the third time I’ve engaged in the process and I love the fresh start it gives me. I keep my highest aspirations, my mission statement, abstract, so that I can allow the universe to bring me experiences to round out what I’ve written. I also write out specific, targeted goals for key areas such as finances, health and personal growth. The practice as a whole feels like an invitation to myself to be accountable in a way that views failures as setbacks rather than disasters and successes as opportunities for both pride and gratitude.

For 2020, my personal mission statement reads as follows:

I make sacred work of every moment and am here and now with all of myself. I cherish my inner world as I own my limitations and, in doing so, exhibit kindness and generosity of spirit. I embody powerful vulnerability as I gather myself whole.

I believe that all the planning and personal effort in the world does not guarantee our goals will be realized. There is an element of serendipity and luck to everything we do that also affects our chances of reaching the stars to which we aspire. I lay out what I want for the next year not solely as an enterprise in what I am going to work to achieve, but also as an invitation to Spirit to bring into my life that which I need to make manifest my hopes. What are your goals and your mission statement for 2020? To what extent do you think you will reach (or not reach) what you’ve set out on your own, and to what extent will you surrender your dreams to the universe and fate? Which miracles and beauty does the tableau of your future hold?

A Good Laugh (In the Cards)

With the start of meteorological winter, I’ve moved to the Resting and Renewal cards in my In an Open Hand deck. This suit focuses on finding softness, coziness and warmth during the chill of winter. The card I selected centered on experiences that bring laughter and joy.

Watching silly animal videos as well as humans failing at their intended actions tends to make me laugh, sometimes to the point of tears. I get frustrated that more cerebral humor only make me chuckle, but I suppose I don’t have a lot of control over what I find most humorous. A sub-genre of silly animal videos is “animals in sports stadiums” which I recently discovered; the combination of humans slipping and sliding as they attempt to wrangle the creatures who show their superior wiliness and physicality cracks me up.

I don’t consciously turn to humor as a coping mechanism or think about finding a good laugh as a way to improve a day that isn’t going well. I hope next time I’m feeling down, I will think to watch something silly. What makes you laugh the hardest? What effect does laughter have on your overall mood?

At the Center (Daily Works of Art)

In the last half-year, there has been an internal shift unlike any I can remember experiencing. I’ve started T during this period of time, so I’m certain that coming into alignment with myself as a non-binary person has played role in this change. My image of myself has been transformed as I’ve created my present.

I’m a relationship disaster. I get close to people, building up connection and hoping that “this time” something will stick and it won’t go sideways. Every single time, though, that there is a breach of trust, when I feel betrayed, used or mistreated, my trauma surfaces to an insurmountable level and the whole thing breaks apart. My deep-rooted attachment issues win the day, no matter, it seems, how much I try to will them into the background or how hard I work in therapy to undo them. I get re-traumatized and cut more deeply after every experience. I do not heal and I do not grow in my capacity to love by failing at it. The only beings I’ve ever loved are my dog and myself. Relationships with others matter and I will continue to engage in them, but they do not complete me.

My career is equally unable to give me a sense of fulfilment or meaning, despite the fact that I know what I’m doing is valuable. Every trigger I experience there makes it harder to show up the next day. I wade through it, but I don’t derive my joy or sense of purpose from it.

I care about the human condition and the planet, but I’m not an activist. Even though topics such as human rights stir my passions and I advocate for equity, I am not enough of a True Believer ™ in any cause to dedicate my life to it. I find meaning here, but it is fraught with disappointment and despair to an intensity where it is not enough, on its own, to sustain me.

I’m left, then, with the possible sources that most people turn to for their deepest nourishment a shallow bowl of thin soup. Finally, after twenty years of suicidality and less-than-ness, knowing myself to be a loner, a Not a True Believer ™ and an unmet career potential achiever, I may have hit on why I’m here. This dish is a rich stew, with layers of flavor and body.

My core is my inner world. I know my interior to a level of detail I’ve rarely encountered in others. And yet, I scrub the corridors of my mind and sweep the reaches of my heart and still I uncover things about myself I didn’t know before. And I refuse to see the gift of self-knowledge through the lens of navel-gazing self-absorption. We die alone. Life is coming to that realization and finding a reason to keep living.

I haven’t found my inner world in order to escape there and shut myself off from reality. Instead, my physical experience is at the center of my inner world. I live embodied. No, I’ve found my core because it is the root of my spirituality and creativity. I have something to honor and something to express because, in knowing myself, I find my entryway to the universe. I do not live to romance a perfect love, to make the world a better place or to achieve a capitalist monument to money, fame or innovation. I exist to live present, sacred and as a witness to the present and the sacred.

I’m a nature photograph of only the trees and the mountain. No caption to draw attention to the threats of the future. No human figure outlined as the subject. No metaphor for the accolades I’ve garnered. Only the holy now and the lens to see it.

My way of being is not the best or the singular way through life. I fully support those whose center is the periphery of my image—the happy family camping, the environmentalist chained to the tree, the goal-setter summiting the peak. There is pain in finding my focus, because I think it is trauma more than biology that has led me to it. A life unspoiled as mine was might have a depth I cannot achieve in which everything I’ve described is blended into a harmonious entree. But my point is simply that I have something for which I exist, even if it isn’t typical, appreciated or noticed. I’ve found my purpose. Attempting to compel myself to locate it elsewhere is a distraction from my fundamental source of joy and hope. I’m in this light, of this breath, reflecting divine presence.

All My Own (In the Cards)

Today I drew the Own card from my In an Open Hand deck. This card references an in-gathering of all parts of self and allowing other people’s castoffs to remain their’s. In other words, it’s about boundaries that encircle as well as protect.

In a certain realm of existence, there is no true distinction between self and other. We are all particles interacting in the same space-time as other particles. However, on a psychological level, I do think a coherent sense of self, one which can partner with others as well as choose times of solidarity, is a valuable metaphor even if it is ultimately an illusion. I’ve known in the pit of my being what it is to have someone perceive me as an indispensable yet subordinate part of who they were, and I do not wish to repeat that experience.

Which parts of self do I struggle to acknowledge as my own? Which might I be tempted to have others care-take for me in unconscious ways? I think my arms reject more than embrace the small, terrorized parts of myself as well as the loving, warm aspects of who I am. I do not see myself as kind or vulnerable, yet I contain those capacities. There is a wistful, longing part of myself that draws the most shame; I don’t want others to know when I want to fit in or be welcomed.

I can sometimes verbalize these lose selves, but I rarely embody them. I would much rather someone see me as cold and calculating than weak, needy and ingratiating. Yet, I am all of this. I have more work to do to sit with myself and love all of who I am. Where do you struggle with internal connection? What love might you show others that you hold back from showing yourself?