Tag Archives: relationships

Re-turning to Trust

Fear is like the partner you can’t get rid of: you fight it and scream at it and beg it to go away and then spend the interminable hours of a frantic night after it disappears flailing in the dark, unmoored, untethered, searching for the hand you know always brings you back to familiar ground. It certainly feels momentarily like anything is better than being alone with nothing to do but confront the immensity of yourself. So you give fear a call and let it back in. And the cycle continues…

Sometimes I’ve been able to break that cycle, and for lengths of time that surprise me, at least when I am with people who hold space for me in the world beyond the world. But when it comes to this world? A world where getting hurt isn’t a theory, where my differences define me, where rejection is very real, where words can wound, intentions get crossed, and the present moment is so often ensnared in a web of wilting memories… what, are you kidding?! Trust is a very, very rare and endangered species.

My world began like this: when I was six months old, someone tried to kill me. Part of me understood, in a way I still cannot even put words to, just how, literally, totally frightening the world could be. Safety became my mantra and my survival raft on the sea of changes. I learned all sorts of healthy and unhealthy ways to build and maintain a stronghold over the water, shore up the retaining walls, and in general do all I could to ensure that the tiny, fragile island I was didn’t get swamped and submerged again. I didn’t discriminate. Whatever it took. I needed rain, not a flood. I needed the calm clay earth to give me another chance to put firm roots down, ground me here. I needed air to keep moving through my body, breathing room, the winds of many temperaments to carry me once I learned to fly. Most of all, I needed other people and needed to learn how to love, rather than fear them.

Unfortunately, we don’t usually get only one traumatic experience to heal from while we’re here. So, over the past couple years as I liberated myself from grad school, I’ve done a lot of healing. I’ve gathered myself in, gone through the naming, sat with shadows and struggled to find their place as part of my wholeness and accept them. And still, the fear is there. It hums an eerie lullaby just beneath the constant cacophony of day to day living. It comes knocking at my door as soon as I want to take a step, let alone a leap, out into the world. It haunts me while I’m longing for solitude with worries or pictures or memories or just a nagging urgency to keep watch. It winds around my relationships, putting a stranglehold on genuine intimacy. It riddles my confidence with pointed question marks and weaves illusions of isolation around my dreams. It awaits in the silence when my only company is the vast bewilderment of myself. It tries to convince me I’m the only one who’s ever felt like this.

There might be long stretches of time during a day or for several weeks when I can ignore it and throw myself into enjoying life. But the fear for that life I am out enjoying never really goes away. So, last April when I decided to join a group of people who gather once a week to learn about an art of relating called circling, I was unsurprisingly terrified. It turned out to be one of the best things that has happened to me in a long time. There was a structure and several things we agreed upon at the outset, which created a container of trust and belonging unprecidented in regular social life. We would pick two people per night whom we’d focus our attention on, just being with what is: the moment to moment experience of that person, the present way it was like to be ourselves, how we felt in relation to each other. It was suddenly okay to make mistakes without fear of rejection, safe for me to come out of a long hibernation, which had begun somewhere back in graduate school, poke my head out of my shell, and discover solid ground just where and as I was.

The more I became solid in myself, the more I was able to be present and compassionate toward others and drop the nonspecific persistent fear. I remembered how to sit and listen softly to someone who was hurting. I could hold someone who was grieving and be in that space with them, without trying to rush them through the feelings, fix their pain or insist it would all get better soon. I delighted in laughing with others, reconnecting with a joy not possible when living so much in solitude, and even occasionally felt vulnerable enough to laugh at myself. The idea I’ve always known as true, that the world is full of many good and trustworthy physical people, developed from a thought to a visceral feeling, an embodied knowing.

I was traveling the road home, this time not through the otherworld, but through this world. And home is gradually getting a little bit bigger… enough to give fear more room to settle down, close its eyes, and even sleep for a while if I’m lucky. The space in which I live has grown larger, able to contain that much more of the light and the shadow and the fear (which isn’t planning to vacate any time soon) … all at the same time.

Now, only a few short months later, my time in that particular cauldron of transformation has abruptly ended. A lot of people there use e-cigarettes constantly throughout the night and the vapor was giving me migraines. The person leading the group (who also vapes) hasn’t ever responded to my attempts to contact him and work out an accommodation for everyone’s needs.

Fear responded promptly, of course. There was the fear that I’m the problem, that the world might not be safe after all, that I simply don’t belong. Then a friend from the group called and shared that this guy is notorious for never communicating. I’m still disappointed. Mostly, I am humbled by a truth staring me in the face. How can a person be safe if she’s rejecting, blaming, and putting down her own self? I can long for belonging, but if I can’t have it in my own skin, where do I go? And it doesn’t help anyone to stall out on fully living whenever anyone else has temporarily forgotten how to shine.

It would be easy to get disillusioned, crawl back into that old, clammy, familiar shell, pull down the curtains and pretend that actually makes you safe. But, life unfolds whether you struggle or let go into the living of it. When I’m aware enough to make the choice, I kind of get wide-eyed at my unconscious actions and wonder what all the needless flailing and frenzy was about.

There’s that scene in Monty Pithon’s Life of Brian when a bunch of people wait in a line to talk to this guy who asks each of them if they want freedom or execution. The hilarity is that a bunch of people enthusiastically choose execution. The grave truth behind the comedy is, of course, that in the end, many of us fear the wildness of genuinely self-authored freedom more than we fear the subtle and not so subtle ways we allow ourselves and others to deprive us of life. Struggle, or let go? Freeze, or freedom? Do I really have to think twice about that? It is our re-turning over and over to trust, even though with specific people trust gets broken, that allows the space we hold for all of who we are to grow, and that’s what gives us room to shine, no longer play it small. That is what empowers a person to put the authority into self-authorship, and that’s the foundation of freedom, and there’s no safer place to be.

It Won’t Be Like This for Long

She walks along an uneven, eroding road, eyes narrowed, mind relatively absent, heart honeycombed with loss and the enduring of uncertainty, pain, and unshed tears. Here and there the trees sway to a music she can’t hear. The fog has come again. It comes when she has stored too many false hopes with the dreams she carries: wishes that reality were different than it seems, that what is happening would not be true.

She has tied up her hair and now it loosens as she walks down the path from which the sun is quickly evaporating. Clouds billow in but they are too far off to see, so she worries what shape they will take and whether she’ll still be on the road when they arrive. She will get off the road if the messages they bear prove to be too unfavorable.

The river to her left sings of joy too inharmonious with her thoughts to take seriously. Far ahead a bird cries too loudly. If she had worn shoes, they would have squelched in the mud on the road, but for now she is as silent as the wind.

Silent, for speech eludes her, for song fails her. The silence in herself echoes the silence outside herself, until she is swallowed by it, wrapped tightly in it, a swaddled child of the smothering silence. She feels cradled by the hands of voicelessness until it lulls her into unsettled inaction. Through that indecision she wanders, the hills on the road nothing to her, the touch of the breeze almost not registered. She bends once to pick up a stone, as alone as her heart, and wonders at finding her way through relationships that, like the cliffs far to the west, crumble so imperceptibly into sand until, abruptly, they avalanche into ruin, taking with them everyone all of a sudden.

Trying to reforge the hillsides of her landscape with scarce reinforcements may or may not have salvaged the whole of the puzzle in which was carved a place for each piece of the once vast vertical stretch of stone. The puzzle rearranges itself without her, appearing crooked and baring just beneath the surface the scars consequent of her leaving.

Solemn now, the clouds come, mirroring her grey blue eyes. She should not be here. Her designated normal place is not with the river and the song of the sun bird and the wisps of searching fog, and for a second, she almost forgets why she ever strayed beyond where she was expected to go. But then the why of it is all too easy to recall. Truth telling, especially softly weaving into the world the truth of her self, is a hard won right she should have known she did not possess. Precarious now, much of what her family has worked for, seeded so carefully, and absent is the peace between them, that had never really been there, but which they liked to say they shared.

It was her lack of silence which crippled her happiness and thwarted her dream to belong. This is what they told her, and sometimes, like now, she still feels this way. But she wonders in some small part of her being what belonging means, and whether she is walking away from never belonging just to walk toward it at last. Can a person belong where she cannot be herself?

It was striving to face the fear of breaking the fragile unspoken and specious borders around what no one wished to face that brought her here, alone and to this road, and far from what she knows. Now the silence beckons with its’ eerie siren’s call: “slip into the shelter of sonorous slumber, where are you going you young hapless wanderer?” But it is not the place of the silence to question her with who she thinks she is. The answer to this cannot be determined in silence, and this as much she knows. In anger now she shouts at the silence to leave her alone–the last of her supposed company who she’d rather be without.

She senses the twilight twinkling at her as she makes for the night a place to stop and reflect on the unknown of the future. To her, now, the morning later, time crawls as she still decides on nothing. She tells herself she will survive. She is thirsting and terribly hungry for wholesome life, one that matches her aspirations, her dreams, her way of being, the light pulsing through her reflecting shapes she was too often forbidden to share. She is tired of carefully stepping around what is, just to please other people and their strange desire to continue in their illusions, as if there is safety in what they want to believe when that was never so.

Onward, and many days to come, the journey might take her from the life she had which ceased making sense to the life she dares to achieve. What if she is not enough? What if she is not prepared? What if all along they were right and it was only she who lived by illusions as they suspected? Doubt makes the fog grow thicker, but what of it? The thing is done.

She is here, and every step she takes challenges the doubt boiling dangerously. It churns in her stomach as if she contained in herself a pit of earth out of which heavy emotions could spring, doubt, and molten fear, and she will not let it spill over the edges. It is enough, she knows, to scald what is left of a person’s worth.

. Instead she imagines the sea of life within her, and she the selkie, who has finally found her skin. She may not know how to swim yet, and there is always lack of confidence, but she cannot go back now.

Besides, she reasons, she is really not alone. The living stones and water and sky breathe with her, sing to her. Even the blazing fire of the sun walks the sky without like companionship, comforted only by it’s radiant light, no one to speak to, intrepidly traversing up and up the path that winds through the mountain of the stars, no knowledge in the moment that a resting place awaits at the other side. She smiles up at the sun then, willing that it recognize with her that they, sun and girl, have a similar journey ahead.

Perhaps their hearts long for the same freedom, perhaps they both rely on nothing but their light, glowing from within. Perhaps peace is around the bend somewhere up there past the day and it’s encroaching fog. She can’t see the peace or the sun through the fog, but she decides both are there. She walks on toward her dream, every moment carrying her closer and closer to a genuine home. She is that much closer to being sheltered in the truth of herself: the truth she listened to, that called her to change.

These realizations seep slowly into her frozen mind as she stares into the pool in the river, re-braids her hair, crinkles the corners of her eyes, wipes mist from her forehead with a tiny hand, then takes stalk of her few belongings. There is not much, but she has lived this long on her own. Quickly, she grasps the leafy hand of a nearby tree, a standing person, and brushes the dirt from her clothes. She is off again, hope rekindled like tiny suns in her ever watchful eyes.

***

Things change despite us and our hopes. Things fall away, like the cliffs and the tide, and the song of the sun bird, and the cycles of twilight and dawn. Things you thought you were, no longer make sense. Things you thought you belong to fade or falter, or break apart in a vehement frenzy that surprises all. Things you thought would serve you you no longer need. Things you know now you need must be sought elsewhere. It won’t be like this for long. If you hold on, more of the pieces will fall into place, change can be sharp and demanding but in the place of all that wanting to be true is the real you, the one who emerges carved through the difficult moments you face. Let yourself shine in all those myriad of shapes you never gave yourself permission to share. And though sometimes you can’t see through the fog, know you still are not alone. All of us, myself and the others, we are here.

The Difficulty with Making New Friends

Isolation is a frozen pond,
Achingly glacial blue.
Breaking the surface,
I can’t gloss over what doesn’t serve me anymore.

The future holds people I might come to know and befriend,
But I would have to talk to strangers,
And the past with its doubts shatters me–
Waits to lap up the tears that won’t fall.

What about it? Taking off into the world,
Tramping onto buses,off trains,
Tired, traversing time and uncharted roads,
Just to meet someone who might not love me?

I spend too much time alone in empty spaces,
So I’ll have to reach out, start again,
A falling star, hopefully crash landing into belonging.
Think again, if that at all sounds reassuring.

Despite this, I put myself in your hands,
I will take the steps unknowing,
Going out into the world once more,
I am pulled into the earnest embrace of this year,

Like a moth to a flame.
How it roars and crackles,
And cackles, and cries,
And beckons and flails wildly.

The untamed, unpredictable choice is:
come together or fall apart.
But when it’s my turn to cross that threshold,
I fleetingly wish to be anywhere else.

Flashlight eyes,
Outstretched hands,
A place for me somewhere I can’t imagine,
Shining with love and compassion.

And there’s nothing about the mystery
To suggest anything but uncertainty,
Transformation could be as wondrous as painful,
Colliding into the light we’re drawn to.

Scorched into completion, the same reason
Why we can’t find pollution on the sun,
It all gets burned away,
In a flash, just like that.

It’s been said that we cannot be humble
Without suffering and sorrow,
So silently we provide them hospitality
To guarantee we won’t become full of ourselves.

But surely learning our worth, our strength and our care of it,
Is worth being proud of,
And we will never wake up if we believe
We don’t have it within us to open our eyes