Monday, August 27, 2012

What are we waiting for? Answer: TBD

Colorful wanderings of a pensive mind. DC, August 2012.
At the start of summer, I granted myself a mental summer vacation. My body had no plans to travel to far-flung lands or hole up at the beach, but I figured that didn't prevent my mind from meandering wherever it damn well pleased for at least three months.

Besides, I thought, it's been a hard spring. And I'm starting school again in the fall. Soon I'll be filled to the brim with thinking -- best to rest the noggin now.

My goals were straightforward:
  • Read a lot.
  • Schedule less.
  • Be outside more.
  • Go on a summer date.
  • Let my mind wander whenever, wherever it wants without guilt or censure.

I've achieved them all, I'm proud to say. My library card got a workout, spontaneity found me again, the summer heat didn't faze me, my summer dates (plural!) were funny and fun, and my synapses racked up major rewards on their Frequent Flyer program.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the fall. My mind wandered in as much as it wandered out. Thinking became a contact sport -- all cyclical and circular, with dips, fits, starts, spurts, peaks, and pops to spare.

At first it felt self-indulgent. Then comfortable. Then uncomfortable. Then exhausting. And the biggest surprise was that all the wanderings and wonderings kept leading back to one core thought:

What am I waiting for?

Not in a "why don't you just do it?" way. I mean as in, "What, pray tell, is coming next?"

Why all the shaping, molding, and kneading recently?

What am I being prepped for?

Where will I arrive? And when?

[Side note: Not knowing the answers is killing me. KILL.ING.ME. To the point that when I took a lunch hour break last week, ostensibly for coffee, I instead ended up in front of the Mary statue at the cathedral where I bawled my eyes out and hiccuped, "What do you want? What now???" And I didn't have tissues. And returned to the office covered in snot. Classic.]

My spider sense tells me this is not a "final destination" scenario. I'm not moving toward a single endpoint, simply to the next stop. So everything I've accumulated this summer might be meant for the immediate moment or the next big phase (or maybe both). I just don't know.

Regardless, my brain and spirit feel mightily tilled, more than they have in a long time. They're tired, but expectant. Ready, even, in spite of my baser objections.

In which case, we'd best get to planting.

Prayer #223: Ready Freddy

Forgive me for feeling entitled, God, but You've put me through the ringer for months now -- years, even -- and I have my hand out for the pot of gold that justifies this crazy ride along the rainbow's stormy arc.

I am as ready as I'll ever be. Literally. I'm more ready now than I was an hour ago, and by tomorrow I'll be unstoppable, especially with a good night's sleep.

So let's get this show on the road. Time for the big reveal. Put me in, coach, I'm ready to fight. Because fight I will until You answer me.

Amen.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The battle of the whole-hearted: Some thoughts on vulnerability

Stick figures have the worst luck. Photo by eddiemcfish.

Vulnerability is having sex with the lights on after your body has been through two pregnancies. Sounds funny, but that takes a lot of trust ...

--

[It's] putting yourself out there through writing. You open yourself to praise and criticism.

--

Being vulnerable is when you're most likely to feel the most, and get the most out of something. The scary part when you let yourself go is worth the outcome. Whether good or bad, you learn, and live more fully.

--

[Vulnerability is] dining alone in a restaurant. Some people love it, others find it the scariest thing in the world. I love it -- as long as I have a book.

--

Vulnerability makes you powerful ... Honestly, it was the first word that popped into my head. It took me a while to figure out why. Our vulnerabilities lead us to empathize, trust. That is the basis of the tribe/society. This applies on all scales and times. Tribes/society/working together is what has made homo sapiens what we are -- tech (farming, space craft), the arts, etc.

--

Signing a lease with a Craigslist companion? Moving in with people who are virtually strangers?

Trust. Risk. Emotion. Alone-ness. Power. All responses to a simple question I posed: What are your thoughts on vulnerability?

As a adjective, "vulnerable" comes off as dire -- "capable of being physically or emotionally wounded; open to attack or damage" (according to Merriam-Webster). Where's the incentive for exposure in that? Why ever be unguarded if the only results awaiting you involve wounds and damage?

I was reminded of vulnerability's double-edged sword recently when I handed my heart over to summer joy wrapped only in a thin layer of half-popped bubble wrap, with nary a question of what might happen to it. And it's probably best I didn't ask anything, because the answer would have included disappointment and a slight ego bruise, and I also would have avoided all the wondrous things I reawakened to alongside those less savory elements just to avoid the hint of pain.

Vulnerability is not weakness. Vulnerability requires courage -- vast stores of it, in fact. Thus, when my little beleaguered heart came back to me gripping its tattered bubble wrap and looking shamefaced, I sighed, hugged it, and re-watched this beautiful TED video from social work professor Brene Brown:



Brown illuminates what we often obscure in our very human need to survive without and beyond pain. Even her point about the origin of the word courage -- that its original meaning was to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart -- drives home for me that vulnerability is as much (if not more) about kindness, gentleness, authenticity, and honesty as it is about fear, doubt, shame, and self-recrimination.

As Brown says in the video:
... Vulnerability is the core of shame and fear and our struggle for worthiness, but it appears that it's also the birthplace of joy, of creativity, of belonging, of love. [...]
You can't numb those hard feelings without numbing the other affects, our emotions. You cannot selectively numb. So when we numb those, we numb joy, we numb gratitude, we numb happiness. And then we are miserable, and we are looking for purpose and meaning, and then we feel vulnerable, so then we have a couple of beers and a banana nut muffin. And it becomes this dangerous cycle.
What cruel evolutionary tactic is at work in us that we trade nut muffins for purpose and meaning? Why would we ever declare ourselves unworthy of a full, rich, provocative human experience? Sure, have your pint of Guinness or your pint of Ben & Jerry's, have your angry drive or an ugly cry when you need to. Those are honest responses to real emotions.

But then open wide again and get back out there. You owe it to Life/God/Unidentified Cosmic Force to share your whole heart with passion and truth. Because we are worthy. We are enough. We are meant for this, and perhaps only this. 

Prayer #222: Am I Not Worthy?

You never intended me to sit behind a closed, fading curtain in a musty room, peeking out onto the overwhelming world only when unexpected noises interrupted my daytime television programs.

So when I shout "WHY?" from my careworn armchair and shake a half-hearted fist at you, keep replying "BECAUSE!", and shove my creaky bones into the human tides of the wakening street so I can see, in the bright hubbub and bustle, what You mean.

Amen.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

"The universe wants to be noticed"

Golden threads. Photo by apophysis_rocks.

"I believe the universe wants to be noticed. I think the universe is improbably biased toward consciousness, that it rewards intelligence in part because the universe enjoys its elegance being observed. And who am I, living in the middle of history, to tell the universe that it -- or my observation of it -- is temporary?"

---

[...] I was thinking about the universe wanting to be noticed, and how I had to notice it as best I could. I felt that I owed a debt to the universe that only my attention could repay, and also that I owed a debt to everybody who didn't get to be a person anymore and everyone who hadn't gotten to be a person yet.

-- John Green, The Fault in Our Stars*

Am I living in a way that notices the universe?

Am I living in a way that looks through both ends of the telescope?

Am I living in a way that pokes dark corners with bare hands?

Am I living in a way that cannonballs into the riptide of human consciousness?

Am I living in a way that admits the possibility of a soul?

Am I living in a way that admits the possibility of oblivion?

Am I living in a way that acknowledges the end of living?

Am I living in a way that digs for the few, golden, permanent threads?

Am I living in a way that leaves me choked up,

because no matter what I believe,

this beauty is undeniable?

* Warning: Reading this book will set a million thoughts teeming and send a million emotions colliding and stash a million quotes in your journal/phone/Twitter feed ... and then lead to short blog reflections that don't come close to capturing how you really feel about it.

Prayer #221: On Notice

Lord, I can't explain
why this world moves me
to tears

maybe because it's so
daring and futile
by turns

but the bare fact remains
it does

so I can only ask
they magnify
my sight

and not obscure it.

Amen.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

A hurried post on patience

Time waits for no man. But Dog will. Photo by 1514.
Good things come to those who wait.

But good long waits come to those who can't wait. Such is cosmic irony. It's hilarious.

You know you should wait. Take a deep breath. Live in the moment. Let things unfold.

Screw that. It takes too long.

Instead you drum your fingers on the table and over your keyboards. You stare at your screen(s). You put friends on speed dial to talk you off your manufactured ledge whenever roller-coaster emotions threaten to nudge you off into the busy street below. You journal your excitement and cloak your anxiety and stock up on ice cream even though it's not on sale. You go to bed late without doing anything of note, and you get up early only to arrive 20 minutes late anyway. You're afraid to daydream because daydreams aren't guaranteed to come true. You can't help but daydream because it's the only state where you're productive. Are you sleepy or distracted? Confused or illuminated? Dare you trust instinct over intellect in this compromised state? Neither, you decide. So you let all your feelings collide in agonizing slow motion while you watch the clock over their frenetic heads, waiting for the planned-for, waiting for the wished-for, waiting for the unknown.

Then.

After all this cantwaitcantwaitcantwait ...

It's over. Done. Whatever it turned out to be. The flush of discovery fades. The zing of newness subsides. Reality re-forms around what used to make you toss and turn. You're left wondering why you rushed it in the first place. You wonder why it took so long yet went so fast. And instead you ask --

Was it worth the frenzy?

Was it worth missing the meantime?

Prayer #220: A Good Wait

God, see me through this, or I will explode all over the place in tiny messy bits that are likely to stain the carpet.

I don't want that. You don't want that. So let's work together, shall we?

Amen.