Thursday, June 18, 2009

Trusting your gut

At the Writer's Dojo:

Martha Beck has a book called The Four Day Win: End Your Diet War and Achieve Thinner Peace. One of the big take-aways for me was the notion that people so often fail at dieting because they haven't built the foundation beneath that then supports "doing what we know: 'move more, eat less.' " She said that most people come to dieting without having done adequate preparation; she outlines the series of stages that must be completed to be successful. All are necessary. The first of these is a 'pre-contemplative' stage, where there is no intention, maybe intentionally no intention, of change. The next of these is considering change. The third is preparation, and it's not until the 4th stage that action (dieting and exercise) is taken. Her point is that most people come at dietary changes directly from "pre-contemplation" directly into stage 4, without going through the others between. Therefore there is no foundation under the action plan and is ultimately unsustainable. It's called "Will Power." You're treading water, baby.

Of course, her book is about diet, but it's really about transformation.

I don't think I'm imagining there was an explosion of the "Self-help" genre of books in the 80's, 90's and beyond, and I was an eager consumer. It seems a very common exhortation was to "trust your gut".

This was problematic for me; it seemed I couldn't even do that right. The outcome was anxious 'listening' to inner sensations, wondering which voice among the clamor was my "True Gut." "Is this it? Is this it?" All the voices had about the same amplitude, and nothing seemed to distinguish itself as the True Voice. As someone who started with a baseline of performance anxiety, the pressure to be able to "find my true voice" merely worsened the sensation of paralysis and fear. I've spent years feeling jerked around by my "Gut". It's prompted me into the wrong lines in grocery stores, premature choices, and reinforcement that Someone Is Trying to Kill Me.

My dear friend and I were talking this afternoon about our troublesome guts when it suddenly came to me. "Trusting Your Gut" is an advanced living skill; it takes some preparation, some "training" to get there. A certain foundation has to be built first, to support that trust.

This week I noticed to what extent fear influences my decisions. I see how fear-based many of my actions are--fear that I won't get my needs met. The tension about getting into the right line in the grocery store (for example) is based on the fear that picking the slow line means I'm not a successful person: if I was successful, surely my Gut would have steered me somewhere else.

The noise of fear has to be calmed before Trusting Your Gut is a reliable course. Calming fear is the stage that must be mastered first.

My Dojo Patron, K, sent me True Love/A Practice for Awakening the Heart by Thich Nhat Hanh. On page 50 I read,

Buddhist meditation is based on the principle of nonduality. This means that if we are mindfulness, if we are love, we are also ignorance, we are also suffering, and there is no need to suppress anything at all.

When the seed of anger manifests on the level of our conscious mind, our immediate awareness, it is because the seed of anger is in the depths of our consciousness, and then we begin to suffer. Our immediate awareness is something like our living room. The task of the meditator is not to chase away or to suppress the energy of anger that is there but rather to invite another energy that will be able to care for the anger.

You can use the method of mindful breathing to make the seed of this other energy grow inside you. It will then manifest in the form of energy, and this energy will embrace your energy of anger like a mother taking a baby in her arms. Then there is only tenderness, there is no fighting with, or discriminating against, the pain. The purpose of the practice of mindful breathing is to help to give birth to this precious energy called mindfulness and to keep it alive.
pages 50-51 (Thank you, K)

I am reminded that the most basic of skills develops in infancy--the ability to self-soothe. Each time a loving presence responds with comfort the baby learns that suffering can be transformed into love and joy. The Way is being shown to the other side of suffering, as well as the confidence that there is a Way. Trust is another name for this confidence.

This is the calming of fear. And the precursor to trusting your gut, with confidence.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Gift, part 2, and Facing shame--or, a post about Nothing

It's just short of 9:00, and I've come in to a beautiful space that is perfectly quiet.

This is the post I intended to write yesterday. I was going to write about being in the Writer's Dojo, and my perfect gratitude toward K.

Well, I guess this isn't the post I intended to write yesterday either. I took a big detour to get here, and thought I'd write about the trip.

In a way, this blog reminds me of an episode of Seinfeld's TV show, the one where he asserted that his show was about "Nothing". "Nothing" has been a problematic place for me, because where most people I know really see nothing, I experience a whole lot of 'Somethings'. This post is about that.

I think I'm going to let my diary entry speak for itself:

Mon Way too Fucking Late, after 10:30

God. Damn. It.

On top of irritated I feel a little awkward too, but I lost some precious time waiting for someone to open up the dojo. No one was available the first time I called; there was no sign in the door, second time I called Jeff answered and may still be in New York for all I know; said Jewell, his SIL was supposed to have opened. I’d gotten here early anyway, and so sat around for about an hour, having forgotten a book to read and my battery nearly dead in the laptop so I couldn’t write while sitting in the car. And here I have a check ready to be filled out to them, and I’m having some doubts. This happened last week too and I thought it was just a one time thing with Jeff gone to New York (I’d thought it was just the weekend) and I could understand that his wife, single-parenting, might have gotten behind.

But, we have an agreement. They’ve agreed they’re open at 10, which is bad enough for me because I’m really ready to write by nine. So I’m pissed about the amount of unproductive time—the time just wasted—precious, precious alone time.

So I remembered Jewell as having been really chatty the time I was here before, and she was going to let me in “in just a few seconds” after I talked to Jeff (“Sorry about that”). She came in a long 5 minutes. We talked a little as she let me in; she knows about Gary’s being laid off, but I had it in my mind that I’d lost time already and didn’t want to waste more in any more chatter than necessary. So I didn’t linger in the foyer. I was just sort of focused on getting over here to write and so thanked Jewell and kind of assumed she was leaving too, and so said, “Good-bye”. She kind of laughed a little and said, “Bye”, back, and then I realized that I may have been a bit brusque, and even dismissive. Like I was dismissing her. That’s the awkward part.

I was going to gripe a bit about wasting time writing about this, as well as sending a message to Jeffrey to tell him that I had found it difficult to wait this morning and I’d appreciate their keeping their hours. (So I feel like I’ve taken care of that.)

Hi, Jeff,

Are you still in New York?

To clear the air, it was difficult to wait past the agreed-on opening time this morning. My solitary/writing time is dear to me and I want to make the most of it when the kids are in school, especially since this is their last 2 weeks. Ordinarily I'd be writing by 9, and I've conceded that hour because I really do like the dojo's atmosphere. Of course, that's not your problem and I've accepted the dojo hours as part of the terms of use. I do think it's fair to ask that I be able to count on knowing when you're open.

The prompt 10:00 opening won't be as much of an issue once school is out, since I'll no longer be taking my child to school over on this side. But I'd like to make the most of this coming next 2 weeks to get as much uninterrupted writing in as possible, since I'm facing famine. A friend has gifted me the money for a full membership for June, with enough left over to pay most of the reduced membership for July. Probably the bulk of the month of June's use of that full membership will be in this first 2 weeks. And I sure don't want to be spending the front end waiting outside, because my back end is finite: I must leave by 3:00 or earlier to pick up my children.

About last week, I didn't have a problem with Rachel opening a little later. I understand that when 'single-parenting' it can be difficult to anticipate the extra time a toddler needs--I know that by experience.

Anyway, I did feel tense this morning, and I imagine you sensed that in our phone call. It seemed like a good idea to call it out, acknowledge it, and move on. No hard feelings on this end...


PS--I put the check for this month's full and next month's partial membership in the drawer.


I started to write a blog post about that; I’d had this sense inside that in dealing with the tensions and the ways it can complicate relationships with others there might be something. One of those universally experienced-but-hiding-in-plain-sight experiences of the tension I felt while waiting, knowing I felt angry as time slipped away, the awkwardness of speaking (finally) with Jeffrey in a civil tone and while wondering if that was being passive aggressive—yet not really accepting his apology. It’s not that his apology was flip or anything, but neither did it recognize that it must have been difficult. He did allow that Rachel said it had happened last week too, and said, “Sorry” again. I just said, “OK”—by way of acknowledging his apology, but not being quite of a mind to absolve him. When I’d consider seeing him in the future, there was this feeling of possible elephant-in-a-roomish-ness: The sense that the difficulty really hadn’t been cleaned up, and possibly swept under a rug. That without my absolution, we really weren’t resolved—a sense that sense of incompletion would hang between us.

And more subtly, there was a sort of haunting feeling that this awareness of elephant-in-room was because of a flaw in me. Shouldn’t I have prepared for the possibility they might be late, since they were last week? Was I too quick to assume that last week was a special case (Jeff in New York, Rachel single-parenting a toddler) and it wouldn’t happen again today? Was I being too anal-retentive to expect that someone be here at or before the published hours time? Wasn’t I foolish to have forgotten my book? Shouldn’t I have prepared by having the AC adapter for the car in the car to charge my computer’s battery which has a shorter and shorter life? I think all of this would have been what contributed to an elephant-in-room feel maybe a year ago.

I wasn't afraid of it this time.

I didn't feel fear but I definitely felt tense. I stayed true to that feeling and didn’t precipitately and inauthentically resolve that tension with Jeff by telling him it was ok. I tolerated the tension and allowed it to stand. As I did with Jewell when she arrived and said she was sorry. A consequence of it was that I was so focused on getting to work that I may have prematurely cut short the usual social niceties period.

I would have worried about that too. And I do still wonder if I should discharge having possibly passed some of my tension on to her by going down and telling her I hadn’t meant to ‘dismiss’ her. Her laugh when I did had seemed like an acknowledgment of receiving something from me, and an attempt to soften it. I think part of the trickiness about that is that whole issue of shame. I suppose, in an over-simplified way of thinking, there was ‘shame’ in her having been so late and keeping me waiting. (And, potentially, shame in me for having not brought the resources to cope better with a possible waiting period as I’d experienced last week) (shame in me for being ‘nit-picky’ about wanting them here at 10, at the LATEST) If shame is present, it seems the cultural nicety is to discharge it by absolving it, however falsely. Being polite to someone is to absolve them from shame by absorbing the effects of their actions into one self and not letting on that something they’ve done has cost you. Betrayal of knowledge-of-shame is cause for acute embarrassment for both parties. I leaked, perhaps, awareness-of-shame when I dismissed Jewell. My clue is her small laugh when she answered, “Bye Bye”. My inclination is to go see her before leaving and say, “Oops—I made a mistake in saying goodbye to you, perhaps when you hadn’t been planning to leave yet. I was just focused on my work and assumed you were leaving too.”

What’s problematic is this then obliquely acknowledges shame.

[Much of my life, I’ve been ashamed when I notice someone else’s shame. I’ve tried to keep it from my awareness, because to even admit it to myself has seemed like something to be ashamed of. Of course, then I’m magnetized to it and it seems to be an elephant in a room. Then I’m left wondering if I have cause for shame because this has become a “bigger deal than necessary” (“I don’t even notice these things!”) (“Just forget about it!”) (“Get over it!”) When the elephant is in the room then I feel it grow because I feel like I’m lying in not acknowledging it. In fact, it seems to keep growing to me, because the bigger it gets, the more draining it is to deny. And a lot of people will just insist that there’s nothing there, and what’s wrong with me for seeing/feeling it? (“Too sensitive”)]

Breaking that chain of thought, because Jeff just came in with his daughter. Well, he looked me straight in the eyes, thanked me for my email, said it was “Awesome”, and showed me the code for the building so I can come in at nine. WOW. He said that communication is very important to him and he really appreciated my frankness. {As I re-read this and relive the moment I just remembered that my cousin hosts "Perfect Moment Mondays." Well, that was mine.}

So, here I worked through a process, saw it all the way through, and didn’t get hung up in the awkward feelings/elephant in room stage—and even got a bit of a reward. DAMN!

Now, to Jewell in just a few.

I went and finished a blog post about K giving me the gift. I’d meant it to be just an introduction to a larger post about…posting. How I’d wanted to be writing about anything but feeling frustrated at having to wait outside the dojo. Then realized that in the nothing was a whole lot of something that might be some of that ‘stuff’ that’s common in human experience but never talked about. Something people think and don’t say, which I think is a goldmine for writing topics. I got bogged down in writing the preliminaries and realized I’d need to break it down into two parts.

Back to Jewell. I’ve resolved, fully, and completely, with no residuals, with Jeff. Do I need to with Jewell, or is the nature of whatever may have happened between us so ethereal it should instead be let alone?

In light of the ‘shame’ thing I was exploring above, in acknowledging my own ‘shame’ in possibly being rude do I merely highlight her shame for having come so late? (And is that really her shame? Did circumstances make it LOOK like her shame, and make her wear the consequences in terms of my briskness with her?) And does this lead to the awkwardness of a situation where she denies the shame, and that’s my cue to deny it too because it’s a breach that I brought it up and reminded her of it, and so I have some shame about that? And then we get into that cycle of compounding awkwardness?

That reminds me of Mother's Day, with Darlene. I mischaracterized her intentions when she took the lint brush from me and felt some shame about that, as well as the shame of having revealed what I was ready to believe about her. So I felt some tension surrounding that. I’d decided to resolve it by acknowledging my ‘shame’ or responsibility in the thing, if for nothing else than my own sense of integrity. The complication is, that in doing this I reveal several things: the fact that I thought it was a reasonable possibility that she was about to give me a lengthy tutorial on using the brush—that is, she’s a person who would do that…that she’d received some of the tension I’d discharged and all it implies, the underlying negative tension between us—that there was some shame in her that had caused me to reveal impatience. The possibility that she deserves some impatience, which is a heavy shame too.

What was clear was that in bringing it up she wanted to deny it, all of it. Including the possibility that she even noticed it…the possibility that she might not be ‘above’ being petty in noticing (assuming that noticing attention being called to someone’s shame is petty).

What a weird dance we do to avoid shame.

In the case of Darlene, I experienced the sound one hand clapping. In the case of Jeffrey, it was two hands, connecting solidly and ringingly together. I solidly feel the difference, and exult in it.

Now, part of the problem of going and owning this to Jewell is that there’s another ‘shame’ implied: my ‘goodbye’ did feel like a dismissal, and a barely polite one to her, and that she ‘meekly’ left. If I say, “You know what? I may have said goodbye before you were ready to leave,” it implies that if she left when she wasn’t ready, then she WAS being dismissed and meekly complying…another kind of acknowledgment of shame.

I was just inspired to do a little online research about Face, and face-saving. This is really interesting stuff, and for whatever reason I’ve always been very susceptible to it. It certainly seems that 'shame', embarrassment, and 'losing Face' are all part of the human condition with each culture having its own vocabulary, ritual, and dance surrounding the experience.

K, look what's come of your gift already! A great start to June for me. Thank you again.

Monday, June 1, 2009

The Gift, part 1, or a Confession

This post is dedicated to my dear friend K.

She's an online friend, from at least 5 years back, when we both posted on a parenting-after-40 bulletin board. I've noticed that she's always kept her name private online, so for now I'll address her as K. After corresponding on the boards for a while we took our friendship out of the public forum and began emailing each other privately.

She, my counselor, and my cousin are the trio that encouraged me to think of myself as a writer and to expand beyond private diary musings. My cousin introduced me to blogging and encouraged me to create one; it was K who asked if I had one, saying she'd enjoy reading it.

It's been a pleasure for me to write it.

Last month Sharon was going to be away and miss one of our sessions. I decided to use the time anyway and look into an alternative place to go. I remembered a place that had opened a year ago, The Writer's Dojo. Through Gary I have a bit of an obscure connection to it. Jewel is a woman contracted by Nike to teach Mandarin to the traveling employees, which once-upon-a-time included him. Her husband has a martial arts studio in North Portland. His brother created the Writer's Dojo in a separate building on the property. I decided to look into it. I bought a limited-use membership which entitled me to 4 visits, then a $10 fee per visit.

Ten days ago Gary lost his job, and today construction is to start on our house, building a garage. In 2 weeks the kids are out of school.

Upon return from the misadventure I found a message from K telling me she'd sent a check to cover full, unlimited-use membership for the month of June. She said I'd need it, withLink Gary home full-time, the construction chaos, and the looming kids-at-home-all-day.

Something inside me goes quiet and still whenever I think of that. I don't know what to call it, but gratitude is a start. What an amazing, loving gift.

That, is Something.

I started looking for K's check in the mail last Tuesday. I didn't find it Wednesday, either, or Thurs. I attributed it to the Monday holiday, but was aware it was taking a while, since she'd indicated she'd hurried a bit to get it into the mail ahead of the three-day-weekend. Thursday afternoon Connor came home from school, asking me if I still had his progress-note envelope. Periodically he brings it home for my signature to prove I've been reading his progress notes. I'd found it loose in his pack with a bunch of other papers and asked him if I was supposed to sign it. He said no, and I put it into recycling. Now he said he needed it. Signed.

So I took a bench in to our pantry and sat down before the bins, sifting through. I found a lot of junk mail, some discards from Gary's office ...and, an envelope addressed to me with K on the return address. It was post-marked May 23rd. Gary still swears he never touched it, and I can only guess that it had gotten stuck somehow on the bottom of some of the junk mail he tossed. I never did find Connor's envelope, but I'm glad I went to look for it. I thought of telling K the story, but then decided against it because I'd seem so irresponsible.

Not only had she gifted me a full membership for June, there was enough there to pay most of a reduced membership for July.

Gary and I have a joint account in a credit union I was planning on depositing the funds into, but it's on the side of town where I don't usually go. And now Gary doesn't either. I'd had an idea that maybe I'd get over there on the weekend, and decided to not carry the check with me.

I knew I would be using the Dojo Monday, which would be June 1, the day the membership is due. A branch of our bank that has our funds for day-to-day operations is just down the street from the Dojo, so I thought I'd just deposit it there and write a check on that account. I was in the neighborhood yesterday grocery shopping and stopped by that branch. I walked up to the machine and reached into my wallet for the check...and it wasn't there. Someone else had walked up behind to use the machine, so I went back to my car to mount a search. Went through all the cards and pockets in my wallet. Looked in the body of my purse. Searched my memory. I could see myself in memory having removed her check from the envelope, folded it into quarters, and slipping it into my wallet. Where has my wallet been? Could the check have fallen out into something else (didn't want to think of it falling out NOT into something else)? When I'd driven for the field trip Tuesday to the pool I'd had my wallet in my swim bag--could it be there? Uh, oh, no. I hadn't had the check by then; it was still sojourning in recycle.

What about my computer bag then? Could it be in there? Most likely not; I'd used it Wednesday and hadn't held the check in my hand until Thursday.

Oh shit oh shit.

I pictured myself emailing K, in shame, to tell her she should put a stop on the check. Telling her I was so sorry. Glad I hadn't told her about the recycling episode, because this would really seal my fate of being a screw-up in her eyes.

Then it occurred to me. Maybe I hadn't removed it from the envelope at all. Maybe I'd started to and only thought I remembered it. Maybe I'd put it in the window in the hallway where I keep my sunglasses, grocery store coupons...kind of a mini staging-area for departures. I thought I had a memory of myself, now, doing just that: starting to remove it from the envelope to put in my wallet, deciding against it until I knew I would be going by that bank, putting it, in the envelope, on the sill.

More lighthearted, I went and did the grocery shopping. Looked eagerly on the window sill upon arriving home, and it wasn't there. Crestfallen, I asked Gary if he'd seen it. Maybe it had blown off the sill onto the floor and he'd picked it up and put it in a more secure location? He said, "I haven't touched it. I've never touched it."

Just in case, I checked the swim suit bag. I checked the computer bag. More randomly than anything else I opened a small drawer on a small chest where I keep my computer next to my writing chair. There it was! My memory, better late than never, helpfully supplied the image of myself deciding that the window sill was too vulnerable to cross-breezes, removing it from there and putting it in this little drawer.

Needless to say I deposited it that evening, and wrote a check of my own on it for the Dojo membership, where it resides now, in the Dojo drawer.

Heart-felt thank-you, K. And love.

P.S. K really should keep a blog, herself. She's a wonderful writer.