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?

Natural Emotions (Today’s Daily Presence)

I am in a bad mood today. Thoughts of “I hate my life” and “I can’t stand (fill in person’s name)” are going through my head. I decided to move towards rather than away from my feelings by considering how they might be represented by each element.

Air

It is windy outside today and that feels fitting for my interior life right now. I want a cold wind to blow through my life and disrupt all the complacency and stagnation to which I bear witness. Wind scatters but it also gathers dried leaves in hollows; I want only want that which is worth having to remain in its place.

Water

I am having difficulty connecting how I feel with a water-based representation. It is easier for me to relate to it in terms of what might soothe my nerves. I imagine myself floating in a pool of warm water in the summer sunshine, and I feel a loosening of my inner turmoil.

Fire

I feel ablaze and unable to contain my fire. I want to remake the contours of the emotional landscape in which I find myself, but I know to set it alight means to burn more than I intend. I wish I knew how to quell my inner rage and where to direct the sense of indignant injustice that never goes out but only turns at times to simmer in me.

Earth

My mind immediately leapt to visualizing an earthquake when I wrote the word “earth.” I am not sure why all my imaginings are so intense and violent today. I see the green grass of a field shaking, slowly at first and then building until a fissure appears, extending into the bedrock.

I found this exercise to be immensely helpful in giving voice to what I am feeling in a way that takes me out of my language-centric abstract thinking realm into an arena of imagining and visualization. What I learned is that I am desperate to experience real change, to see dynamics shift and people get their comeuppance or their restitution.

There is an energy fueling me now that was previously inaccessible. It feels very difficult to contain or control. I believe I need to meet the beast and befriend it, rather than to assume something is wrong in me when others’ actions upset me. What are you feeling today? How would you describe it in terms of the four elements I’ve listed? What message does it have for you?

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.

Owning My Depth

I’m definitely in a mood today after the experience I’d predicted might lead to marginalization and transphobia did not let me down in its vexations. I’m not certain as how much my perceptions of others are accurate right now and how much they are colored by a T-inspired blunted depression, but I feel as though, much of the time, I am surrounded by shallow people. People who are flippant and who, although they are capable of being loving and caring to those who are like them, do not concern themselves with the needs of those whom society pushes to its fringes. Indeed, they are the ones, through their complicity and outright discrimination, who encourage the different to be viewed as deviant.

I’m as flawed as the next person, as self-centered and self-righteous as anyone you’ll meet, but I know it. I do not deny the bitter, the ugly and the hating parts of who I am. I may struggle at times to rein them in and to befriend them, but I’ve explored the cracks between the veneer of civility I wear when I feel like being “nice.” I check my assumptions and examine my motivations for areas of bias. I have blessed to know a few people who have depth not only in the integrity of their character but also their willingness to acknowledge where they lack character.

I don’t know how to relate to people who are shallow, especially when I think they are causing harm by their un-examined way of gliding obliviously through life. It isn’t that I take the ignorance that they spew personally, it is that I view them as, at the end of the day, a bad person. A person who denies and invalidates the suffering of others and who refuses to listen or change when they are told their actions are harmful is not merely misguided or incompetent. They are willfully making the world a worse place and I find accepting that they are able to do so unchecked to be an injustice.

Perhaps all I can do right now is to focus on the persuadable, those who are interested in exploring their own inner assumptions, and to know that, because they can potentially do better and do good, they are worthy of much more of my attention and focus than are those who show no interest in being challenged. There are lost causes when it comes to addressing privilege. To the lost causes, I can try to stand up to them in group contexts and to mitigate the harm they cause. It is likely, if I sit with it long enough, I will come to know that my willingness to write someone off and declare them “cancelled” reveals not only the shallowness of their character, but also an uncharted territory of inner contempt I hold into which wells of compassion may need to soak.

How do you handle responding to people you perceive to be shallow, if that is a characterization you hold of them? How do you stand up to injustice? How do you come to know your own assumptions and biases?

A photograph of a small journal into which a colored pencil drawing of a sunflower-like image has been sketched.

Draw Anything (Today’s Daily Work of Art)

I have been so blocked when it comes to drawing these past few months. When my perception of external threat reaches a certain level, as it has at my job, I shut off from my creative energies in a futile attempt to protect the hopeful and joyful parts of self from harm. My viewpoint of the world being bleak and lacking pleasure is no doubt related to this inner exile.

So, for today, I pulled out a small sketchbook in which I’d created several drawings last year. I was stunned to notice there were several images I had little memory of creating, which tracks with the internal separateness I experience. I decided to put as little pressure on myself as possible and to draw a sunflower. Upon making this decision, I immediately felt overwhelmed by the prospect of accuracy and the need to research how to create a sunflower. I almost gave up before deciding realism wasn’t my goal and that I could draw an image that had the essence of a sunflower even if it didn’t accurately reflect what it would look like.

The experience of drawing itself followed a familiar pattern. I spent several minutes in a blissful state, happy I had finally cracked open a sketchbook and was “being creative” at last. I felt relaxed and peaceful. Soon enough, however, once I’d made the decisions needed for how to finish my drawing and switched into filling in the petals, my mindset changed. I suspect that this was because the decision-making part of my brain, the prefrontal cortex, was no longer required as the central player, and I likely transitioned to relaying on the “muscle memory” part of the brain, my cerebellum, to complete the task at hand. Doing so meant that my thinker (prefrontal cortex) was back to having free reign to ruminated and stress out about upcoming events.

There is an obligation coming up this week where I may experience transphobia. I found myself worried that I was embedding anxiety into my drawing in that, when I look at it, all I will think about is (possible) harm. I have serious weirdness with both holding onto peaceful mental images and with creating them, and this small encounter may offer me a few insights as to why this could be happening. The moment of change today seemed to be when I lost my ability to be mindfully present with what I was doing.

Art is not always pleasant and it does not always make me feel better. I am so grateful that I am learning this lesson on my own rather than trying to go to art therapy and giving up after the first session because I think it didn’t “help.” It takes a disproportionate amount of energy and effort for me to engage in it as something in the process gives free reign for my inner torment to rise up. The threats I perceive from the outside do not fade from view when I’m being creative, if anything, they take shape and become manifest. This doesn’t mean I should avoid art, but rather, that it may be a way to confront my fears rather than to escape them.

Are you mindfully aware of yourself when you are creating visual (or other) art? What is the relationship between your emotions and your artwork? What helps you overcome blocks in your ability to create?

Inspiration for Intuitive Cards (Today’s Daily Work of Art)

I have been working on my In an Open Hand intuitive card deck for at least a year and a half now. It contains 64 cards, each with a different word and prompts for different parts of self for reflection. It is also split into seasons. I’ve finished the prompts for fall and winter, but have much left to do for spring and summer. I’ve been waiting impatiently for spring to be on the horizon so that I can get back to creating in this way again. As I wait for signs winter is lifting, I decided to spend some time reflecting on the process so far.

If you are interested in creating your own intuitive deck, here are a few tips and ideas about how you might go about doing so, based on what I’ve learned from my own experience:

  1. Decide on a few themes that have a numerical basis to them. For example, I’ve incorporated moon phases, seasons of the year, body systems and the like into my deck. This allowed me to create “suits” as well as types of cards within each suit. Doing this allows for a more intimate focus on a particular area of your inner world and can help to give you some direction.
  2. Consider the purpose you would like your deck to serve in your life and what you would like to learn from it. Intuitive to me speaks to exploring my internal experiences, but it might mean something else to you. What I love about making my own set of cards is that I am not conforming myself into someone else’s way of conceptualizing things but can be as free as my imagination will allow me to be.
  3. Do words or images speak more to your inner world and your intuition? If images are how you process, you may want to begin by creating the artwork for each card and then letting your ideas flow from there. I am much more comfortable with my writing skills, so I’ve started with laying out my ideas in language and am still working on finding a way to represent them visually.
  4. For which type of person do you want your deck to be accessible? As a non-binary person, I’ve been extremely frustrated by the strict gender binary most tarot and oracle cards incorporate, so it was important for me to find a way to represent my spirituality that would not reinforce the gender binary. Even if you are the only one who is going to use the cards you create, spend some time making sure you are welcoming all parts of self and not solely the ones with which you are most comfortable.
  5. Take your time. I have gotten a lot of fulfillment from having an ongoing creative project with no set end-date and a maximum amount of flexibility. I feel inspired by having something in my life that isn’t focused on deadlines, productivity, making an impression or fitting in. It is possible that you might start creating an intuitive deck and find yourself led in another creative direction. Be open to possibility.

If you have dedication to inner work and/or creativity, what wisdom or inspiration do you have to share? What word or image would feel appropriate to your day today? What does it mean to you to attend to your intuition?

Room for Growth

I am following up my recent post about how to know whether each person’s full humanity is being recognized in a relationship. Today, I’m focusing on my own weak spots in living up to what I wrote. The list from my previous post is below.

“If your full humanity is being recognized in a relationship, you will be:

  • considered as a whole person, not as a representative of one aspect of your identity
  • expected to own your mistakes and to make concrete steps to improve
  • welcomed as you are
  • able to set appropriate boundaries, saying yes and no according to your preferences
  • only responsible for managing your own emotions, thoughts and behaviors
  • able to make your own decisions
  • allowed to consider the compatibility of each person’s needs, desires and wishes
  • taken seriously when you share that something offended you
  • offered love, affection and trust without having to earn them
  • apologized to when someone’s actions harm you
  • allowed to express your needs, desires and wishes without being shamed or mocked
  • given space if you ask for it
  • present with each part of yourself
  • encouraged to adapt and grow at your own pace
  • built up, cheered for, and supported.”

Offerings of acceptance

“Welcomed as you are” is a struggle for me in my personal relationships. In professional relationships where I have authority over someone, I strive to my fullest capacity to be open-minded, non-judgmental and to find something good in everyone I meet. Outside of the structure of this context, I tend to focus on potential red flags, signs of abusive tendencies and to assess on a continual basis how likely my boundaries will be repeatedly tested in a relationship. In other words, I center my attention on self-protection and compatibility. I would like to better trust myself to be able to adjust how close I am to someone in the context of information I learn in the future, rather than to take every questionable situation and elevate it into “and we’re done” before I have a full assessment of how things might go.

Unearned trust

I am not certain as to my capacity at “offering love, affection and trust without having to earn them.” I am not overly transactional in my relationships (for example, I don’t give gifts or act with generosity with the expectation that it is returned in kind), but I do open up incrementally as I build trust with someone. I also think that I am prone to withdrawing if I feel hurt and could fairly be accused of “abandoning” people, although my perspective is that we each need to be responsible for handling our own emotions rather than expecting someone else to resolve difficult feelings for us. I suppose my evaluation of this capacity would be that I am alright with where I am at on it, but I think there have been others in my life who would report me as being limited in intimacy and closeness.

Change on your own time frame

I am not very good at making sure those in my life are “encouraged to adapt and grow at your own pace.” I want results and I want them now! My lovely brain is highly skilled at instantly peering, with accuracy, into another’s weaknesses and then developing, without intention, a multi-step plan for how they can better their life. I have advice overflowing and have had to do a lot of work to contain my desires to share it when it is not solicited. I’ve been reinforced many times as to the fact that the assessments I make are on-target and insightful, so I feel confident that my wisdom isn’t merely a projection of my own unconscious issues. I own my shit and I work on myself constantly; my desire to help others do the same is both a reflection of my dedication to inner work and of my intolerance for a lack of insight.

But, and the pause matters here, I am not in charge of anyone’s life besides my own. I do not get to decide how, when or where someone comes to a reckoning with who they are and the impact of their actions, especially when they do not have a direct effect on me. My insight may not be what the person needs at that moment in time, especially if they are upset. Often, offering empathy clears space for objectivity and analysis, but being “rational” doesn’t always allow for an emotional connection. I feel frustrated that people I care about have to help me learn this lesson on a repeated basis, but it also allows me to circle back to considering compatibility. I do best with those who appreciate my clear-sighted way of looking at the world, rather than with those who only want “emotional support” and who do not move from a place of coping emotionally to working on solving what can be solved in their life situation. There is a fine balance to be struck in this area and I hope, with time, to get better at finding it.

If you care to, please share which of the aspects of my list you find to be most challenging at embracing, and where you might go with it.

In the Fullness of Your Humanity

For today’s post, I decided to consider the qualities of a relationship that enable a sense of my full humanity as well as allow me to acknowledge the full humanity of the person or people to whom I am relating. I will be continuing this post in the next few days in order to answer the reflection questions I included. I hope you’ll share your thoughts in the comments!

If your full humanity is being recognized in a relationship, you will be:

  • considered as a whole person, not as a representative of one aspect of your identity
  • expected to own your mistakes and to make concrete steps to improve
  • welcomed as you are
  • able to set appropriate boundaries, saying yes and no according to your preferences
  • only responsible for managing your own emotions, thoughts and behaviors
  • able to make your own decisions
  • allowed to consider the compatibility of each person’s needs, desires and wishes
  • taken seriously when you share that something offended you
  • offered love, affection and trust without having to earn them
  • apologized to when someone’s actions harm you
  • allowed to express your needs, desires and wishes without being shamed or mocked
  • given space if you ask for it
  • present with each part of yourself
  • encouraged to adapt and grow at your own pace
  • built up, cheered for, and supported

Reflection

Which of these characteristics speaks most to you? Are there any that feel uncomfortable, or for which you know you have caveats? Are there any that you value but find challenging to offer to another? What might you add to the list?

Naptime in the Winter (In the Cards)

The astonishing snowstorm this weekend in Newfoundland has brought back memories of significant snowfalls I’ve experienced, during which the only means of getting around were small paths carved out of the snow. I think that if, upon opening my front door, I was met with a wall of snow, I’d be tempted to retreat inward (and perhaps to chill some beverages in the natural refrigerator). The theme of an inward-looking viewpoint speaks to me as tied to winter. Deep inner work is, to me, the heart of the winter season, alongside an invitation to a slower and more gentle approach to self-care. I am attempting to allow myself to actually rest, rather than to opine the importance of it while ignoring my needs.

I tend to give myself enough time to sleep at night, so I don’t nap on a regular basis. One of the few times I will physically lie down during the day is if I’m sick. This weekend, the weather where I live has turned bitterly cold and I am still not feeling well. In particular, I find my energy flags by mid-afternoon. I purchased the best robe I’ve ever owned in my life this winter, and have been curling up in bed in my spare room with my pup while wearing it.

It may seem obvious to those who are more able to still themselves, but it has felt like the height of luxury to be able to be warm, cozy and at peace without having to watch the time or jump up to accomplish the next task. I’m a good sitter, in that I do lounge around quite often, but there is a distinct difference to me between being at rest and fully unwinding, as I do not flirt with sleep when I watch TV or sit on my couch. I find myself wondering if I would be more productive if I completely stopped what I was doing and napped on occasion, rather than going into a halfway-state of resting my body without resting my mind.

Even in the time it has taken me to write this post, worries about being lazy and unhealthy are already creeping at the edges of my mind. I’ve been sick for a week and a half and I still cannot accept that my body needs care and cannot always go at one hundred percent. Part of my mission statement for this year involves owning my limitations. My physical constraints have always been a primary source of frustration and struggle for me, so I hope I can allow myself rest in the form of napping when I need to as a simple reflection of my desire for self-care and comfort. Do you nap? If so, is it a part of your self-care routine? If not, do feelings of guilt related to productivity or other self-judgments hold you back from doing so? How can you be kind to yourself today?

When We Fail (Today’s Daily Remembrance)

Are the endpoints of success and failure the only way to encapsulate our life experiences? This is a question I am considering for today’s Daily Remembrance. In contemplating ways in which failures have helped me grow, I believe one of the most important lessons I’ve learned is to look at the largest possible framework in any given situation. (Content warning for discussion of eating disorders below).

What may feel like a personal failure often looks quite different when we take the broader context into consideration. I did poorly on a science fair project in high school. I was extremely embarrassed and ashamed of myself when this happened, to the point that it held me back in my future career. The main reason I did poorly was that I did not stay after school and work with a teacher on it. I failed to do this because I had an eating disorder at the time and was near collapse by the end of the regular school day. Had I received the treatment I needed and been supported in my healing, perhaps I would have been more successful.

I also believe “success” is relative. Success in the situation I described above might have been me working through the underlying trauma that led to my eating disorder, science fair be damned. In a lot of situations, someone “succeeding” on the outside by garnishing money, fame, connections, and so forth comes at a high personal cost. Those who “fail” to do so are often hampered by systemic imbalances that are out of their control.

I believe the freedom to choose what we want as our end goal is one of the most important freedoms we have. Disavowing popularity and financial riches as the ultimate measures of goodness or happiness or whatever can enable us to feel gratitude for what we are able to experience. Whether our success is individual or communal, disengaging it from consumerism and competitiveness would likely serve many of us well.

Where I struggle is in making my end goals affirmative rather than avoidant. If I’m honest, I often gear my actions towards “feel the least amount of stress possible” rather than “fully live in each moment.” Every stressor then becomes a failure, rather than each experience of presence being a success. I awoke yesterday and wrote a poem to the snowy morning. This action was incredibly powerful as I contemplated what it would be like to fill my mind with the abundance of the times I can both be and do with joy rather than the times I have to dissociate and survive. What are your end goals? How do you define success and failure? What has a past failure taught you?