Unrestrained by Demons

It’s been quite a year. Can you relate? I’m not speaking of 2016 (although…my heavens, 2016 has been filled with revelations and reckoning), but rather the last 12, 13, 14 months themselves. The last…long while. So much self-reflection and quite painful investigation into the what’s and why’s of this life.

It can get heavy. Being an emotional being can at times be draining, can leave us feeling depleted and weepy. The lows can get as low as they get high. It can become incredibly daunting to process the ups and downs of life, to navigate one’s own emotional liberation, while still going out everyday and operating as a functioning member of society. That sounds dramatic, but do you ever feel as though the sheer weight of processing your own grievances feels like a full-time endeavor? One you want to just commit yourself to for a week (or five), in solitude, surrounded by healing, supportive space and silence? It’s so challenging to sort through our thoughts when we’re burdened by the need to simultaneously work, maintain relationships, construct the outward appearance of having it all together (not that we’re meant to pretend that our suffering doesn’t exist, but most days no matter how lost in our heads we want to get, we still have to be adults and live our lives). This is reality, despite the suffocating moments of fear and anxiety that visit us all, from time to time.

It can be really tempting to live a life shut off from that emotional processing. Because it’s just hard. The idea of avoiding all that mess can seem easier. Sometimes denial can look, from afar, like such a cozy alternative; not having to feel our feelings, not being blindsided and ambushed by the underbelly of what it means to be an emotional creature in this huge, undulating universe.

But I would never again choose that alternative. I’ve lived in it before; the stuffy, damp, darkly shrouded realm of denial. It’s isolated. It’s claustrophobic. It actually doesn’t feel safe at all. If you’ve ever been there, you probably know that it feels like laying in a dark room with a heavy box on your chest. Even though the box may be like Pandora’s, filled with a whole mess of stuff, it can be far more productive, albeit terrifying, to throw open the windows and start sorting through the aching feelings and thoughts that lay locked up and waiting for our attention.

This stuff – the wading through the suffering, I mean – is, as I view it, the price we pay for being alive.

I’m currently reading (slowly, savoring) my favorite author, Elizabeth Gilbert’s, newest book Big Magic. Liz’s prose slay me. She is, as I say, one of those authors that “makes you feel so much more comfortable with being alive.” Because, let’s be honest, the human condition can feel really intense, lonely, daunting, and uncomfortable at times. Liz reminds us that fear (insert: trepidation, personal demons, struggles – all manifestations of fear) is always with us. She suggests that we be inclined to accept and embrace our fear. Invite it along on the journey we are taking with creativity (insert: love, joy, adventure, abundance – all manifestations of creative living). Her brilliant concept is that, on this road trip of life, we are driving, creativity gets the front seat, and fear gets the backseat. Fear is welcome to come along (because we don’t actually have any choice in the matter, do we?), and it is allowed to speak up, but it does not get to decide where we’re going. It does not get to lay its hands on the map, or even fiddle with the radio station (Liz, seriously, is my greatest inspiration as a writer – this stuff comes from the creative depths of her imagination – what a vision! – get thee to a bookstore and buy yourself Big Magic).

What a notion, right? I feel, and I’m speaking for myself here, that the overwhelming urge is to banish fear, and all its expressions, from my life. I have been standing outside the car, arms crossed, brow furrowed, tapping my toe impatiently waiting for fear to unbuckle, get out of my backseat, and let me get on with my journey.

I might as well turn my distressed gaze upward and start looking for pigs flying.

I’m not proposing, nor is my great hero Elizabeth Gilbert, that we should be super comfortable with the idea of carrying fear around in our back pockets. It’s uncomfortable; it’s supposed to be. But this is the non-negotioable byproduct of having been gifted the most exquisite opportunity of creative living (which we all have been gifted, by being born as human beings with opposable thumbs and incredible cognitive function and hearts so gloriously capable of being wrecked by love that they could just swallow up the whole world with their power for adoration).

We all have our “things” that hold us back. We all have our demons. But we are worthy of living lives unrestrained by demons. If we can, collectively, stop waiting for the demons to release us, for fear to get out of the car, and just realize this uncooperative passenger is going to endlessly serve as a beacon of where we don’t wish to go (because, at its root, fear is a mechanism of self-preservation, sounding off when danger might be present), we can see its purpose. We are high-functioning human beings with the discerning power to notice when we are being chased by a lion and fear should get to use its lung power with all its might, for good rather than evil…and when faith, love, intuition, and creativity are being drowned by the drunken, garbled hollering of our backseat fear (who somehow seems to have climbed onto the dashboard and got its sticky hands on a microphone).

We have the capacity to take a step back, look at our lives, and see where we’re being pinned (or, sometimes, glued) to a spot we no longer wish to be. We have the power to investigate why we’re immobilized. We have the capability to change that.

I have a tendency of getting stuck in a rut. I am fearful of change, and the unknown brings me great anxiety. A life of ritual and routine has brought me great comfort. My chest grows a bit tight at the image of jet-setting wanderlusts, living out of suitcases and going where the wind blows. No, no, I’ll wait patiently for my niiiiiiice, detailed itinerary please.  But that’s just me. And a huge part of this presses is in getting to know ourselves, and embracing our quirks and tendencies. Learning, through trial and error, where to push our boundaries and where to respect our needs. I went heaving and hyperventilating into a 3-month study abroad venture overseas back in 2009. I literally fought for breath and sucked on tears as I wrestled with the militant French operator and a dinky little calling card in a Parisian phone booth, begging my mom to come and visit because WHO DECIDED IT WAS OKAY TO PUT AN OCEAN BETWEEN US FOR A QUARTER OF A YEAR and I hadn’t slept in 36 hours and HOW DID I GET TO FRANCE?

By the end of my trip I was seriously devoted to finding a way (ANY way) to stay in Italy, cash in my plane ticket, and preserve the little world I had created with my friends in this foreign land where everything exotic had become familiar and reality was suspended in favor of 20 year old, wide-eyed, first-time independence.

…didn’t see that coming.

What made it so wonderful and tolerable was that, after the initial shock and severe discomfort of having no familiarity, no routine, and no way of predicting what was ahead…I reestablished all of those things that kept my needs met. I made routines. I settled into my Florentine flat, put my belongings in their new places, found a local market, carved new neural pathways in my brain, got to know my surroundings, created nourishing relationships, and set up a daily routine. All while testing my boundaries.

I did return home as planned, fortunately, but I do think back regularly and fondly on my time living Europe as an experience I’m so deeply grateful I had. It showed me I am capable of wrestling fear to the ground and making a run for it.

Letting go of control and powering through the impending horror such an act produces makes for a sweet, intoxicating exhale; like a flood of dopamine, or (on some much smaller level) the ecstatic amnesia a new mother experiences, forgetting the pain and agony of birth upon beholding their precious infant.

It is so tempting to stay on the shore where everything is safe and protected. But, the reality is that we only perceive this space to be safe and protected. It’s a deeply seductive act, for many of us, to try and preserve a sense of stability and safety by putting on our control freak panties and hyper-managing every aspect of our lives. This doesn’t make us safe. This sacrifices sanity for perceived safety. Not even real safety. Just our carefully constructed belief patter of “if I do this, and this, and this, everything will stay okay. I will be safe.” That is a very sad and disappointing way to live each day, I think.

I’m not saying we all need to turn our lives upside down, or go jump on a plane and live in Europe for 3 months in order to experience life from a place of love and creativity rather than fear (though maybe the thought makes your heart skip a beat and, actually, is just the type of experience you do need). For many of us, though, the healing medicine can be found on a much smaller scale. It can be accessed in our day-to-day lives. It might just mean doing things differently today than you did yesterday (that is often a big enough shake up for me, honestly, as a diligent creature of habit). It also doesn’t mean things have to be different every single day, because ritual and routine are beautiful and holy, just so long as they don’t come from a place of fear and seal every crack in the structure where love and creativity might try to seep in and stir things up.

Maybe it means starting a creative project or finishing a degree. Maybe it’s finding the courage to use some of that built up PTO and taking a trip. Maybe it’s climbing out of the unemployment shame and getting excited about a new career. Maybe it means going to a yoga class for the first time or revisiting a forgotten passion for hiking. Maybe it means going out to eat, or maybe it means staying in and preparing a favorite recipe. It could mean asking for help. It could be breaking a pattern of isolation and going out with friends, for an introvert. It could be a day or night of self-care and indulgent alone time at home, for an extrovert. Perhaps it’s looking at your body in the mirror and not breaking your gaze until you are able to see yourself through the eyes of someone who loves you unconditionally. Maybe it’s a commitment to a new routine, or maybe it’s the courage to break out of a rut. Maybe it’s the act of daring greatly enough to build an avenue between the two.

Whatever it is, whatever your sweet, pulsing heart knows in its very depths is an act of great courage…that is the first step in your journey. We all have demons (not a one of us is immune, no matter how “perfect” someone else’s existence and “put together” life may seem…they too struggle, I promise).

We all experience loss, fatigue, sadness, anxiety, depression, negative self-talk, FEAR. We are all united in this human condition, no matter what ways our fear and creativity display themselves. We may look different, but we are not. We are all the same. We are all paddling our little boats furiously towards freedom and love. But perhaps, in a joint effort of all the eyes reading this, we together can start to see our fear as something new. Rather than a block of darkness, threatening to sink our boat, we can view our fear as something useful. As a necessary component on our journey, an irreplaceable cog in our wheel of healing. A threatening shadow of heaviness to keep the brilliant light from blinding our eyes; a little hunk of pressure providing just enough weight to slow our speed, so that we don’t race feverishly past all the opportunities to pause, and be shattered by the staggering beauty of how very far we’ve already come.

 

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True North

Being someone who is not all about Valentine’s Day, it’s interesting to me how this past [Hallmark] holiday played out. Now, I must clarify – by “not all about V-day” I mean I’m not interested in supporting consumerism or the idea that love ought to be “done up” on one specific day of the year just because someone else said so. That being said, I will admit that I am dreadfully romantic. I rather like the idea of celebrating love every day, perhaps even fancying a Valentine’s-esque display on, say, a random Wednesday in October. Just because. It’s not the beauty in V-day that makes me cringe, it’s the sense of duty. The [not so implied] obligation [of particularly men] to reach some unattainable standard, fulfilling some ideal, usually having to do with a great deal of money spent and a healthy dose of frivolity, neither of which are materials on which a true love is built.

I don’t mean to be a stick in the mud, trust me. I’ve been pampered every which way on Valentine’s Day and loved it. The rose petals all over my bedroom, the flowers, a fancy gift – it’s divine. What I’m saying is that less is more. We so often fail to grasp that as a society, and V-day is no exception. Consumerism is empty and love is what fills us.

On this past Valentine’s Day I was given a flower by a gorgeous stranger. A single red rose. A romantic, random act of kindness. Now that’s what I’m talking about. Less is more at its best.

I hadn’t expected any semblance of a V-day celebration, seeing as I’ve gone quite out of my way recently to avoid any such circumstance, but was still filled with a giddiness that I felt rather belonged to a girl who might be showered with romantic gifts by her boyfriend. Instead, I was going to work, single and fiercely happy about it. I received my rose midmorning and promptly forgot it at work. It was still there the next day and I took it with me at the day’s end, putting it in my car, where it still sits. Rather perfect still, even four days later.

What’s interesting is that the sense of giddiness had nothing to do with Valentine’s Day, it turns out. I carried it with me throughout the weekend and, with the start of this new week, it’s begun to feel like a big giant ball, collecting mass and rolling down an incline with increasing velocity.

The full moon landed on V-day, unsurprisingly adding to the heightened energy and palpable electricity in the air. I imagine the ripe, luscious moon made for a very interesting Valentine’s for some…I digress.

So here I sit, the Tuesday after the holiday of roses and love, still carrying this little ball of whimsical flirtation in my belly. I still feel butterflies like I have a crush on someone, except there’s no someone. How strange, right?

Right. Or at least that’s what I thought until it suddenly hit me, a wet towel’s smacking impact with a tile floor. Snap. The someone is meThe crush I have is on my life.

I’ve been dreaming lucidly. Dreaming of adventure, the unknown, love, joy, sex, fear, beauty and horror. I wake in the night, turning from one side to the other, catching glimpses of the dream play from which I’d just been roused. Momentarily musing at the vivid, sometime auspicious, often entertaining, increasingly perplexing snippets that linger. Linger like an ephemeral haze, images slowly fragmenting; I grasp lazily for them in my slumber, reaching through thick water, my fingers muddling their fragile vapor, only getting splinters of the original picture. Sometimes I rise from my bed and scribble on my whiteboard whatever I recall of the dreams. It always startles me in the morning to see these notes written diagonally across the white space, in alarming shades of pen chosen in the dark under hooded sedation.

Just as dreaming of giving birth does not signify the imminence of an actual birth, most of my dreams do not symbolize their literal circumstances. I’ve long since been an avid dream analyst and am quite enraptured by the rich ocean of dream study. I kneel at my alter in the early morning after mediation and page through my dream dictionary, which somehow came with me when I moved away from home, even though they belong to my mother. I make connections all through the day of dreams to real life and oftentimes things don’t “click” until days later. I still remember dreams I had as a child. I also have recurring dreams. These stick with you, glaringly bold and precise, as familiar as a movie watched a hundred times.

Just today I read an update on a moon page I follow. It said, “Moon is now in Libra which will put the focus on our partnerships for the next day or so. Notably, this transit will usher in the restoration of peace & harmony if the full moon stirred up some big emotion…”

Some big emotion indeed. For me, at least. Did you feel it, too? Interestingly enough, the focus on partnerships is landing now, days after V-day. Peace and harmony in abundance. I welcome them both, heartily. Big, big emotion was stirred up for me over this past full moon, albeit in a far stabler manner than last month’s full moon. Last month was chaotic, this month was eerily calm. Stable. My feet were planted firmly, though I could feel the trembling quake of the earth beneath my soles.

Today I took a gorgeous hike with a gorgeous friend. We bared our souls to one another as we climbed hills and skittered down inclines, deep breathing and dirty hiking boot bonding. This beautiful sister spirit shared with me the story of how she met her husband and why they make such a special pair. With her permission, I include brief mention of this. Her articulate description of what makes herself and her hubby such a prime match was humbling and inspiring all at once. It was one of the most romantic explanations in its pure sensibility. Relationships are romantic, yes, but they are partnerships above all. They are business, romance, alliance, friendship, responsibility, companionship, ever-evolving. If we are mindful, if we foster a partnership that is all of these things, we can [I imagine] sink into a comfortable rhythm, a union as steady as that of the sun and moon.

I suppose the idea of relationships have garnered my interest in the past couple of months, which proves surpassing as I’ve spent the past, well, longer than ever before, single. Rather aggressively intent on maintaining my solo status, free bird, able to go wherever I please without having to answer to anyone.

It’s not that I don’t want that anymore. I do. But I no longer have the averse reaction to the idea of intimacy that, for an alarming spell, I had begun to harbor. I felt distrusting of union, as though I’d lose myself, and couldn’t help but remember my favorite memoir Eat Pray Love. Spoiler alert, but Liz Gilbert traverses this very same conflict [in far greater depth] upon getting serious with Felipe in the Bali love segment of her epic journey. Perhaps all this has been stirred up for me seeing as I just read her second memoir, Committed, this past month. A book all about the history of marriage, the author’s qualms with marriage and basically everything in, on, under and around the idea of marriage. I finished the book more grateful than ever in my life to be single. Perhaps convinced never to marry. Slightly frightened at the very concept of monogamy.

I know, right?

This coming from the romantic girl who has always aspired to be a loving wife and Mumma one day. I still do. I just feel like my whole understanding of what it means to be a human being, much less a partner, spouse and parent, is morphing so rapidly that I can hardly keep up. I’m clutching the coattails of my own dreams and flying along in their wake, eyes wide and darting, catching every glimpse of radiant color I can and feeling the whipping wind in my hair.

So I suppose it’s safe to say my Valentine’s Day was the best I’ve ever had, to date. Because this is the best relationship I’ve ever been in – this one with myself, with my life – it is by far the best relationship I’ve ever had. At 25 I am gaining a strong sense of what it feels like to identify the things I want. I feel like I’m just wading into the sea of life. I feel like, for me personally, it is both poignant and crucial that I’ve waded into this depth on my own, my hands clutching nothing but the warm water at my hips. I no longer feel the burning need to be on this journey alone, but I feel burningly grateful that I passed over such an indispensable leg of my journey unescorted. I feel like my senses are on highest alert, canine in their sharpness. My True North is in sight, an inferno lit by the heat of a thousand suns.

I may not have any answers, and I’ve never been more okay with that. Because I am more awake than I’ve ever been. Awake to my dreams, to my reality, to my pain and to my joy. I don’t know how anything will turn out, I don’t even know what tomorrow will hold, but I know which way I’m going. I’ve folded up my map and pawned my compass because, at long last, the eternal light of my inner pilot light is burning. I’ve set my sights up ahead, and the light is strong. I carry with me the love affair that is my spirit, my life, my dreams. The unknown is expansive, pouring out over every square inch of land as far as the eye can see, peppering the horizon. But the unknown can’t be scary anymore, not when I can see it so clearly. When every nuance is visible, despite the gauzy aura of dread it wears, the unknown is nothing short of fascinating.

There’s really nothing left to do but turn the light up and take a closer look.

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