Archives for posts with tag: what did you say?

Yesterday I found myself mired in an unexpectedly contentious moment with my Traveling Partner. Life in the Time of Pandemic takes its toll on us all, I suppose. Clear communication and skillful expectation and boundary setting are sometimes more challenging for me than I’d like. Living and loving well can be fraught with challenging circumstances. My results vary. I’m fortunate I can retreat to my studio and take a bit of time and distance to care for myself, and restore my sense of perspective, often through writing, sometimes through study or creative endeavors, sometimes meditation is enough. Yesterday evening was a bit strange in an unexpectedly helpful way; I used my words.

Wait though, I mean… I still retreated to my studio to take care of myself, emotionally, and sort myself out. It wasn’t about skillfully using my words live, real-time; I used them long ago, at some other point, and happened upon them on my way to opening a manuscript I am working on, expecting to spend some time writing. No kidding. I had written myself a note, at some point in the past. I happened upon it by chance (which sort of suggests I did a shitty job of putting it where I could easily find it, but this is not about that).

The note I wrote to myself has the title “What about when it feels like nothing really matters?“, which suggests I wrote it in a moment of despair, frustration, and futility, and great emotional pain. Out of curiosity, and feeling cross with myself, I opened it, and began reading;

So, okay. Right now is hard. Breathe. Sit upright. Breathe again. Let this painful, personal, very subjective moment, right here, this one, let it go. 

…Just… let it go. 

You’ve got this. Moments are brief. Temporary. Colored by emotion. Rationalized by a thin veneer of what feels like reason – and often isn’t that at all. Breathe. Exhale. Relax. 

Sometimes, and this may be unavoidable, you won’t feel heard. I’m telling you – from me to you (also me), that this is a thing and maybe always will be. Don’t join the queue of people who aren’t hearing you; listen. Give yourself that moment. Forgive yourself that instance of reactivity. Let that go, too. I’m not saying this is an easy thing, just that, with practice, and consideration, and presence, it is a thing that can be done. You can be heard by one human being who is literally “always there” as much as any one human being can be; yourself. So… do that. 

Start with a body scan. How does your body feel right now? Are you tired? Hungry? Cold? Hot? Thirsty? In pain? Be present and aware of your own physical experience. 

Assess your emotional experience. What are you feeling right now? Emotions and sensations are associated with words. They are not the words. They are experiences. Subjective. Tied to our personal dictionary. Informed by our personal understanding of the world – however flawed. Our perspective on our experience belongs to us – it’s yours. Fix it if it is broken. Accept it if it is an accurate reflection of your understanding of reality. Cut yourself some slack about being so human. 

Now, cut that other person some slack, too. They are every bit as human. Their emotional experience is every bit as valid – and also every bit as wholly subjective, and flawed. Doesn’t matter; it belongs to them. It is their context. Their narrative. Likes yours is for you. You won’t always find a match. Reach past that. Be compassionate. Be kind. Be understanding. Be those things for yourself, from your own perspective, and then also be that for them – aware that their perspective differs, and still able to embrace their humanity as fundamentally more important than this perceived difference. 

Rejection hurts. Conflict is uncomfortable. We want what we want, and often react to not getting that by lashing out in a hurtful way – which we are prone to justifying and rendering somehow righteous, by running that shit through our personal narrative, tidying it up, and making excuses for who we are. We’re not so right. We’re not all wrong. We can’t be “fixed” because we’re not, in fact, broken – we’re human. You are human. We each are. Seeking peace and nurturing, but finding demands, or rejection, or diminishment, or lost agency, or disappointment, or hurt feelings… all that sucks so very much – but it doesn’t have to define you, yourself. It’s just a moment. Let that shit go. 

Re-frame the experience. Assume positive intent (particularly if this “moment” develops within the context of a loving relationship). If you look again, with the certainty that all involved are authentically invested in the well-being of the individuals, and the relationships, does it still look the same? 

Shit sucks though. It’s unpleasant. It can feel overwhelming to feel so insignificant. To be unable to voice your experience in the face of the Other. Breathe anyway. Exhale in spite of it. Allow yourself to exert your agency by relaxing, and letting go of small shit. Specifically avoid lashing out. God damn, that can matter so much! Breathe. Listen. Exhale. Relax.

At the end of it, I was in a different place than when I began. It wasn’t so hard to reconnect, to begin again, to go past that moment and on to some other. The evening ended well. My perspective on the entire day changed. It was helpful. 🙂

Finding that right balance between joyful connected intimacy, and the frank realer-than-real truths of living life together 24/7, has its challenging moments. That’s okay, too. It’s an opportunity to do the work of growth and to explore more depth in this relationship. Nothing about that suggests a comfortable process. There doesn’t seem to be any ill-intention to it – just humans being human. We’re each having our own experience.

…Look at that… Already time to begin again.

I was sitting on the patio with a coffee in the cool of evening. The sun sets on the other side of the building, and the patio is shaded and comfortable even after a warm day. A neighborhood child at play wandered near and steps closer to see the roses after asking her Mom if that would be okay. She glances my way, I smile. It’s enough – and rather suddenly, instead of the quiet evening, birdsong, and breezes, I am confronted with the whimsical chatter of a child, eager, enthused with life, and curious about… everything. “What are you doing?” she asks, looking up from smelling each and every different rose in bloom. “I’m listening.” I reply. “To me?” she asks quizzicially. “To the evening.” I smile, she smiles back, and for a moment, she is quiet too; listening to the evening. “I hear birds.” she observes somewhat impatiently, and seemingly eager to move on to more active things. “Why are you listening?” she demands politely. “I’m not very good at it,” I admit, “and I need a lot more practice at giving other people – and even the creatures of the world – a chance to say something.” She sighs, and gives me a look of sympathy and understanding. “My Mom says I don’t listen, too.” I laugh, her Mom chuckles, too. “Well, ” I suggest gently, “you can practice. The birds don’t mind if you are not very good at it, at first.” She skips away, chattering with her Mom about birds, birdsong, roses, and listening. I am left with the stillness of evening, birdsong, and breezes – and a smile.

A recent evening visit from a different neighbor.

An evening visit from a different neighbor.

I do practice listening. It’s one of the more challenging things I work on. Stand a human being in front of me, and often – even in the utter absence of desire to do so, or something to say – I start talking. Sometimes I even manage to crowd my own consciousness with too much talk – I know it is frustrating for people who would like to be heard. It builds a problematic cycle over time, where I talk too endlessly and am eventually ‘tuned out’ or silenced and subsequently don’t ‘feel heard’, myself. It’s not a good way to treat love, or friendship, and it’s less than ideal for any other sort of positive interaction I hope to have. So. I practice listening. Really listening. The sort of deep listening in which I am specifically and only attending to what I am hearing, without queuing up other thoughts, replies, rebuttals, counter-proposals, action plans, or questions. Just listening. Hearing. I make the effort to refrain from verbally replying or responding, aside from acknowledgement when appropriate, and give the moment time to finish saying what is being said – whether it is an evening of birdsong, or a moment of real conversation with an actual other human being. I don’t always manage it. Sometimes I interrupt. I keep practicing. Everyone wants to be heard, and there are few things more precious than feeling that we have been. I continue to practice, because I’d very much like to be known for being someone who ‘really listens’. 🙂

It’s no longer evening. I woke this morning, too early, and returned to sleep quite easily – then ‘overslept’ my usual time by nearly two hours, waking feeling deeply rested and content to start the day. I’m pleased that the apartment is comfortably cool. I am untroubled by how dreadful my coffee is, and continue to sip it contentedly, thinking about cups of coffee in life that have been notably worse – and sometimes still ‘good enough’ in spite of that. There aren’t many things in life that seem to work that way… maybe just two, for me: sex and coffee; even when they aren’t awesome, they both manage to be [for me] generally quite acceptably satisfying…although I am more likely to finish a dreadful cup of coffee than a sex act that might qualify as ‘dreadful’, so… perhaps not so similar as all that? lol I find myself distracted by the comparison, and the implications, which hint at the chaos and damage. It’s just an emotional shadow passing over the delightful landscape of the day, and it passes quickly. I don’t find that I am scurrying to run from what could be revealed about the woman in the mirror, instead the observation is noted, to be considered gently another time. I’m okay right now.

Today is a good day to listen.

I’ve had some inspired moments that left me urgently wanting to write, recently, but the timing was poor and the moment was not at hand; the ideas have since slipped away. Some mornings I wake feeling inspired to write, other mornings it is my morning meditation that inspires me…still others, I face a blank page for an eternity of minutes, until making an observation about that experience, itself, is what remains. (Guess what sort this morning has turned out to be? lol)

I keep a journal. My most private, uncensored, unfiltered, uninvestigated, unverified, stream-of-consciousness reflections on my experience are written there, ideally where they do no harm. I have many dozens of bound volumes reflecting on various details of my life over time, and at one point they were displayed on bookcases as a singular body of written work; there was something strangely powerful about standing midst the many varied volumes, understanding that even so many were only a small slice of my individual experience in a mortal lifetime. Change happens. Most of those volumes are now locked away, for space-saving and aesthetic reasons, and changes in what I need to hold on to as I have changed, myself. In high school I wrote with structure and discipline, in the evening, once daily, at the end of the day. Later, I wrote in a somewhat irregular way, because the Army didn’t make it an easy thing to find time to write. Domestic violence drove my writing ‘underground’; my journal was secured in a safe deposit box at a nearby bank that I felt reasonably certain my husband-at-the-time did not frequent. Opportunities to write freely, then, were very rare, and the writing seemed fairly desperate.

After my first marriage ended, and I moved into my own place, my writing (in my journal) exploded into a very large part of my experience, and the many dozens of volumes began piling up. I was going through blank books every 6 weeks or so, and writing about everything I could think to. Since then, on and off I’ve gone through periods of near-continuous writing that don’t exactly seem ‘inspired’ as much as … driven. Then I stopped. Just…stopped. For a long while I didn’t write at all, almost two years, I think. Eventually, I’d write one day, say nothing,  then it would be days, weeks, months before I ‘tried again’. I had ‘lost my voice’. It pained me. I was ‘stuck’ and uninspired, and also feeling that I urgently needed to say something. I was in a very bad place. Life continued to go on around me, and certainly I continued to reflect on it…but I’d lost a powerful ally on a lonely journey: myself. Words matter. Mine matter to me. I read what I write. I had stopped writing. I had stopped listening. There seemed no other choice to me, then; what I was saying on those pages wasn’t helpful. I considered burning them all, every volume, every page, every word. I’m still not sure why…and I’m still not sure it’s a bad idea.

The closer I got to turning 50, the more it hurt me to feel so silenced. I wasn’t painting, either. I felt shutdown, diminished, and impaired. I ended many days thinking “well, this has likely run its course then, hasn’t it?” about my life, and wondering what to do about that feeling.

...and usually with a cup of coffee.

…and usually with a cup of coffee.

Here I am on the other side of all that. I write most days, here, and less regularly in my journal – and it’s digital these days. Mindfulness practices, meditation, and improving my understanding of the neuroscience of emotion has taken me a long way from that dark place. I’ve been finding life worth living for a long while, now, without any requirement that it be ‘perfect’. I feel disappointed less often. The rare days I really struggle with anxiety, fearfulness, or that bleak feeling of utter futility, are those when my PTSD is clearly causing me problems, or when I’m fatigued and having more challenges with my head injury than I do when I am well-rested.

The writing is a metaphor inasmuch as there are characteristics of that experience that point out how varied the human experience can be: driven, broken, emotional, stoic, programmed, helpless…and also loving, compassionate, supportive, adventurous, romantic, exciting… mindful. It’s been these new practices of mindfulness that have benefited me most, and the rest of life’s lessons tend to build on that, these days, by improving my experience day-to-day, or highlighting missed practices, or needful changes, using less favorable outcomes to show the way. I’ve learned that living is not about filling the blank page, as much as choosing what to write with care, and that writing is one of the things I do to take care of me.

Today is a good day to write words about writing. Today is a good day to smile, and enjoy who I am – who we each are. Today is a good day to be kind, to be considerate, and to value my most private joys as highly as those I share.

Sometimes life is easy, sometimes it’s hard. Tonight, I sit sweat-soaked, tired, worried, strained, tearful, confused, and honestly – just not happy to be away from home.  Hotel rooms, many of them, have a certain… ‘quality’. Let’s be honest, more a ‘characteristic’ than a quality, perhaps? It is easy to become immersed in the dreary, the grim, the fatiguing, the sad, the low… I wonder how often someone has sat, morose and alone, in a hotel room and written great tragic poetry, gritty urban thrillers, or words of disconnection, loneliness, and pain? Probably a lot.

What it is, what it isn't.

What it is, what it isn’t.

I’d rather not succumb to the dingy yellows and ochres of the decor, and hoping to provide some relief from the strangeness of the air, the windows are thrown open to breezes and the sounds of traffic. I am, nonetheless, very much alone.  The sweat that poured off me so freely in the afternoon heat as I made my way to the hotel is now chilling me through the dampness of my shirt. My head aches.  I was as efficient as I could will myself to be in the moment, purposeful, gentle, wasteful of neither time nor movement; there were other needs to meet than my own. Still, efficiency is only as useful as it is skillful, and my ankle throbs quietly reminding me that my ankle brace is still in my pack, from yesterday’s hike, forgotten in the joy of achievement and fun, and overlooked in my purposeful rush to pack and make a timely check-in to this solitary, rather cramped room peeking at the street below, through fluttering leaves.  I like the view much more than the room.

The world waits outside this room, and the world has no stress over any concerns of mine at the moment. I’m hungry. The evening is pleasant. There is no need to succumb to sorrow and pain by an effort of will, and I realize that I’m hungry.  The bottled water in the room is ‘courteously’ provided at a ludicrous mark up. There is a grocery store down the street, and in the frenzy of human beings handling human affairs I may find, too, a moment of kind contact, a brief connection, a reminder of all the good that is…

Do I take the red pill – or the blue pill? [cue Matrix theme, cut to clip of sexy people in shiny black clothes doing stuff in slow motion]

I will watch South Park tonight, and I’ll laugh – and in laughing is perspective, and healing, and a reminder that we’re all in this together, each having our own experience, each doing the best we know to do, mostly, when we can, generally, or at least…we’re probably trying, and god damn – all most of us want is to be heard, to feel visible, to know that the people who matter to us find that we matter as well.

Today is a good day to wonder ‘what can I learn from this’.  Today is a good day to consider this woman I am, and who I want to be. Today is a good day to be the change I want to see in the world.