Sunday, December 24, 2006

Approx. Jan. 2004

December is "Best of" Month - Introduction


Sounds a lot like "resolutions" doesn't it?

One of my favorite sayings is, "You have to refill the well before you can give out sips of water."

It's easy to dismiss such pithy sayings, because they're easy to say but hard to truly understand; so hard sometimes, that they feel impossible to live much less understand. How can you live something you don't understand?

On the one hand, they’re easy to grab onto because they're warm and fuzzy and relieve us of reality. Like any other addiction, they allow us to forget how, or rather relieve us of the need to even try, to solve and salve reality on our own. Life can be overwhelming. It can push us to do something, but leave us too frazzled to know what. Is there any clearer a definition of despair? And when this happens, is anything harder to remember than that we are okay just as we are? That we need do nothing to be loved and accepted except be? Hard to remember, and, when gripped in those moments, impossible to live. That’s when we grab the pithy saying to do the work for us. Why despair? Just homilize! It’s okay. Everyone’s doing it.

On the other hand, a pithy saying may contain truth, but its truth can be hard to decipher because truth is different for each of us. What makes it even more difficult is that, when we do pinpoint it, truth rarely appears how we pictured or anticipated. I can’t think of anything more Sisyphean than the attempt to discover truth that is unique to each of us when we, additionally, have to overcome our expectations to find it. I’m reminded of Polonius, who, early in Shakespeare’s play, told Hamlet, “This above all: to thine own self be true.” That character was easy to laugh at because he homilized his entire way through the play, until he was pierced by Hamlet’s sword. Perhaps because he didn’t grasp the difficulty of doing that which he’d urged of Hamlet.

For some people, going home to our family and childhood friends is a form of "refilling the well." For me, it's an exercise in will. Don't get me wrong. I have made peace with my past. I take responsibility for myself and no longer actively cultivate accusations against those who shaped me. But when I lived in Oregon, "I" was shrouded by the misconceptions I lived. My journey over the past 14 years has been a slow, and often painful, stripping away of those misconceptions. I am more myself than I've ever been. Partly because, no longer camouflaged by misconceptions, I've begun to know myself. Mostly though, because, knowing myself more and more allows me to live more and more as myself in the world. And what are we, if not what we do?

Misconceptions, Addictions and Fear are the triumvirate controlling most lives. Most of us live as others think we should, because we Fear losing their love and acceptance. In order to do this, we employ Misconceptions - erroneous ideas about how we should live. Because living our lives for others, living lives contrary to our true feelings, causes pain, we then employ Addictions, because Addictions dull that pain and allow us to continue the course of our Misconceptions. If we don't feel our true feelings and continue to live our lives as others dictate, we remain unhappy. Turning this cycle around, making real change in our lives, learning how to listen to ourselves and cultivating the bravery to be ourselves in a world that wants us to live for convenience rather than for happiness, means we must confront and work through our Fears.

One way to do this is through New Year's Resolutions. Examples: I resolve to quit smoking; I resolve to lose weight; I resolve to manage my money better. Why do so many of us fail at our resolutions? Because once we start enacting these changes, our lives actually start to change. Shocking, I know. And what's more frightening than change? I'm supposed to quit smoking, but I had no idea that it would open my eyes to what a miserable sham my marriage is and lead me to think about leaving my husband. I'm supposed to lose weight, but I didn't expect that once I no longer had my weight as an excuse to feel badly about myself, that all the other reasons why I feel badly about myself would come to the surface. I'm supposed to manage my money better but I didn't expect that once I did, that I would have nothing left to complain about and that having nothing to complain about would be so frightening. Most of us fail our resolutions because we want change to come without fear. Hey, Universe, I made a resolution; why the hell are you handing me this revolution? Well, if we had just confronted our Fears in the first place, we would never have even entered into whatever ridiculous cycle that traps us. We cannot succeed at actually changing our lives if we cannot accept the fear that inevitably accompanies change, if we cannot accept the revolution. And since most of us evade fear, we fail at our resolutions.

When I go home to Oregon, it takes every effort to not slip back into my old Misconceptions, the ones that ruled my life when I was a teenager. In New York, I'm a scholar, a writer, a woman in touch with her feelings. In Portland, I write nothing. I read nothing but glossy women's magazines. I stay up late, drink more, spend most of my time on the couch in front of the television as a way to keep from talking to the people around me. Why? Because I need a lot of time alone. But in Oregon, I feel trapped with nowhere to hide. It’s a feeling I perfected as a teenager. Nobody's stopping me from taking time alone. It's just me stopping me as my newly discovered self struggles but fails to overcome years of habit. I cave in to just numbing myself and maintaining, rather than fighting, the status quo.

Not all is doom and gloom however. I reaped many benefits from my trip home - insight, laughs, warm moments with friends old and new, and a hefty chunk of Christmas money. Did I fill the well? Not really, but I have another week before school resumes in which to shake off those old Misconceptions and remember whom I am, again, and then to digest those insights and laughs, and then maybe to share them with you. Maybe. But I’m going to refill the well first, which, contrary to expectations in my case, has nothing to do with holidays, family or childhood.

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