I and the fire are one.

Thoughts from a candle meditation:

The fire lives as it actively dies. Its death is in the living, and the beauty of it is in the dying. The fire is, because of the environment it inhabits. It consumes and transforms, and is only as effective as the quality of its provisions. Without the air, the fire cannot breathe. Without the air, the fire cannot ignite. It cannot shine. Without the oil, the fire cannot consume. Without the oil, the fire cannot transform. It cannot live. Without the wick, the fire cannot stand. Without the wick, the fire is formless. It cannot exist.

I am the fire, and the fire is me. The fire and I are one.

——–

I haven’t blogged in a long time, and so much has happened in that space. I intend to get back to this. It is a part of my journey, and a part of my process, and if there is any wisdom in it, it in the air, and the wick, and the oil of it all. I think there is value in sharing the light.

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Let all things be

Let all things be agreed,
there is hunger, pain, and need;
sorrows carried and interred.
Light and darkness in a word.

Let all things be aligned,
where hardship dwells, hope in kind.
Where cruelty rises, let love meet it;
blow for blow, it is defeated

Let all things be affirmed;
struggles won beget strength earned.
Songs of victory sung through tears
stir the soul to claw through fears

Let all things be allowed.
Virtue lived is grace endowed.
Living change lets love proceed;
ending hunger, pain and need.

I don’t know what this is, or why I wrote it. It may be profound, or it may be some pretentious navel-gazing nonsense. But it’s personally meaningful on some level; whether it’s a prayer, a wish, an observation or incantation, it carries some significance for me (even if it is a bit pretentious sounding!)

More than my shame

Shame has a funny way of robbing us of our strength, our identity, and our ability to show up in our own lives. I asked myself how I’ve allowed shame to undermine myself, and this is what came up.

Trigger warning: I’ve dreaded and dragged my feet on exploring this, and on speaking it; there are secrets that I have kept hidden from even myself. I have committed, however, to the growth that I know will come from being vulnerable, and honest with myself. This started out as a personal growth exercise. I did not expect it to become a confrontation of my own boogeyman – a traumatic experience from my childhood. But, that’s the thing about roads. They take you to places you don’t always expect.

My entire life has been determined by a perception and belief that I am significantly different; on the fringes of what is “normal” or “acceptable.” Memories float before me like specters. A personal slide show of regrets and inadequacy: that time when as a boy my favorite toy was a cabbage patch cat, the times when I was afraid to take off my shirt in public, the times when I couldn’t control or understand the intense emotions of my anxiety, my fear of other people, of rejection. Each image flits across my mind faster, and faster; a strobe light of shame. Each one cuts me like a knife, and I turn inward, holding myself, shrinking back, becoming smaller. I believe that smaller is what I am meant to be. I feel undermined by the way I was hurt – broken into invisible pieces that I can somehow feel but not handle. The shame of these experiences, the pain of my wound, and of who wounded me, threaten to overwhelm my very foundation. I feel myself spinning out of control – lightheaded and dizzy. I pull in tighter, becoming smaller, more afraid of the world, and more ashamed of myself.

Blackened images course through the screen where sensation and memory have become disconnected. My mind has lost the records, but my body remembers. My body holds the backups. In my pain, I tell myself a story; that this is always who I was and who I was meant to be… that there is only badness here, and that I must scramble to keep the rest of the world from seeing my broken “otherness.”

I struggle to understand and separate what was there before, and what came after. And, in that confusion, my mind makes it all one as it tries to weave broken strands together in a tapestry of negative space. In my shame, I tell myself that this is all there is, that this is all that I am – small, broken, hidden, and helpless. It is, in part, true. I was shattered without knowing, without consent. I was broken without knowing.

I was living around the negative space, but haunted still by a dream that I might be more than my brokenness. That I might be stronger, more powerful, and more capable than I had convinced myself to be. I am learning to become at peace with my shame. To bring it to light, and in so doing… to bring myself into that light. In the warmth of the sun, I see that “haunted by a dream” is rather untrue; that by holding myself captive to my shame, I cut off other truths of who I am. That I am more than my brokenness, and the glimmering shards of my woundedness are a part – and only a part – of a much larger whole.

In the past, I have told myself  that, “Who I was is not who I am, and who I am is not who I will be;” a mantra of hope and rejection all at once. As if I needed to become more or different from what I am right now. Accepting and embracing the shame of my trauma, of my past and present, I now choose to say,

I was enough, I am enough, I will continue to be enough. I am in a constant state of becoming, but my becoming has no bearing on my power or worthiness. It was always there. It will always be there. I am enough.”

I stand in the light. I am enough.

 

*I could not have explored this, written it, nor begun to come to peace with it without the support and guidance of meaningful relationships in my life, and a good therapist. If upon reading this you feel difficult feelings come up, please don’t hesitate to reach out for help. I am enough. You are too. You deserve to know it.

The Real Test

The real test of growth is not in the quiet places. It is not in the stillness. It is not in the calm. The real test of growth is in the chaos, the noise, the battering of the elements. “I’ve done the work,” is so easy to say. Living the work is not.

It’s so strange how reflexive we humans are. Put us in a new environment, in new circumstances, and we can blossom into something totally unique and beautiful. But we are part rubber-band; put us back into stress, into familiar territory, into familiar relationships, and we snap back into old patterns. After all, they worked for us before, so why wouldn’t they work for us now? It’s when those old patterns bring an unwanted cost that they become problematic.

I find myself facing into the familiar winds. The smell of old fires carry in the air, and my old patterns rise to meet me. They are my tools of war, ever-ready; but, if I’ve done the work as I claim, and as I believe, do I really need them? The temptation is strong, but it is a temptation of convenience rather than utility. These new skills that I’ve worked to forge in the fires of reflection and deliberation  – these untested weapons are beautiful, and sharp. They may come with new costs, but they have been formed because I believe they are better than the old. They are untested.

I guess now is the time to prove them.

Go With The Flow

Guilt weighs us down, and can prevent us from being open to the flow of life’s current. Creativity, joy, and self-expression are smothered under the weight of regrets and a lack of self-forgiveness. I asked myself what blocks my own openness to the flow of life, and this is what came up.

I feel guilty for leaving the people I know need me. I feel I’ve abandoned those that relied on me, and I blame myself for their suffering. I feel guilty for my desire to pursue my own interests; the weight of those that I care about and who care about me weighs me down. I believe that if I pursue my passions it will make me irresponsible.

I feel guilty for following my passions, my authentic self, because I believe that it puts my security and the security of those I love at risk. That it will lead me to selfish ends which harm us all in the long run.

I feel guilty for speaking ill of others. I believe that taking a strong position and rigidly voicing my negativity makes me feel safe, and protects me from the wounds I might receive in being vulnerable. I have ignored the balanced nature of people, experiences, and things; that it is not a relationship of either/or, but rather and. The burden of that un-lived truth haunts me, and I feel true regret for poisoning the experiences of others.

I feel guilty for doing whatI think other people want me to do. My fear of their disapproval and anger has kept me locked in a pattern of ambivalence. I do not trust my creativity because I know it will lead me away from the expectations of others and toward an authentic experience of myself. Denying my creative energy keeps me locked in place.

I feel guilty for being petty, and small; for constantly comparing myself to others and trying to eschew my vulnerability by conforming or disparaging, whichever feels more effective at the time. I cling to my guilt, white-knuckled and tethered; it grounds me to an ideal that I believe will leave me safe. My guilt weighs me down. I believe it is preventing me from being washed away in the tides of life, emotion, and creative energy. In my willfulness, I have called that character, but it poisons my freedom, my joy, and my ability to move forward in life.

The tides that pull at me are the tides of life that will take me on a voyage of growth and meaning. I must let go of this anchor of guilt, and forgive myself. Swimming through the currents takes more character than clinging to a lead weight. The waters that surround me are not my enemy; they are the essence of meaning and fulfillment and growth. I must choose. Choose to let go of my guilt and trust that I can swim towards a better life, a better self, and a better present moment. Or, choose to stay, and cling to my guilt, and be beaten to death by the waves.

I will flow with the water. I will forgive myself. I will let go, and let myself become.

Heroes

There’s a saying that goes, “Never meet your heroes.” I’m not sure if there’s more to it than that; a quick Google search brings up nothing of significant cultural consistency. Having myself had the opportunity to meet most of the people I hold in highest esteem, I understand the logic behind it. Having a hero is all about having something to aspire to by raising someone onto a pedestal. In the shine and shimmer of respect and admiration, that person becomes more than human. They become an ideal. They become a kind of small god. When you meet the real thing, it never can live up to the ideal, and the result is a kind of crushed faith. I’ve known that kind of reality check, and struggled with what to do in knowing my heroes.

For one, I never know what to talk to them about. As much as I hold these people in high esteem, and they wear the shining garb of my admiration, I am aware that they are just people, at the end of the day. I can share my appreciation for their work, the ways they have inspired me, etc. etc., but at the end of the day, it’s a unidirectional contact. It’s worship at the altar. I want to be personal with them, to connect on a deeper level, but the nature of the relationship makes this difficult; I know them (or at least of them) better than they know me. So where do you go with that? When the blocks of stone and hewn wood start blinking and breathing, you almost start to wish that they would stop.

That leads me to the other point. Meeting your heroes means meeting the person, not the thing you’ve come to idealize. If they’re living up to the things you admire, you start to see how those virtues also come with a cost, and make up just a small part of who this person really is. Maybe you see things that conflict with your own values. Maybe you see things that don’t feel quite heroic. Maybe you see that they’re struggling to get along in life just like you. In the face of such realism, who wouldn’t want to turn away, particularly when so much is invested in the idea of a person?

So I get it. Don’t meet your heroes, because they’ll never live up to your expectations. You’ll only end up disappointed.

I’ve come to realize, however, that you should meet your heroes. Yes, meet them. Get to see the real person (as much as you can in the kinds of formal ways this becomes possible) and observe their struggles, their pains, their flaws, and their shortcomings. Come to known them on a personal level, if you can. Realize that these are not gods, but people. Realize that the humanitarian who is bucking the system to create change is a man driven by existential pain, by irritation with a system that is flawed, and by a certain narcissism that seeks to soothe his own hurts as much as others. Notice that the couple changing lives with knowledge are absolutely doing so because they want to make the world a better place, but that they are also doing it because they simply love the pursuit of that knowledge. That the woman sparking a revolution is doing so by birthing a movement grounded in her own pain and failures. And realize that these are people who are justifiably proud of what they’ve accomplished, while at the same time haunted by a belief or fear that they could, should do just a little bit more.

There is amazing power in realizing that those who do much and who do little in life are simply living out the stories they’ve told themselves, and offering the world answers to questions that they themselves have struggled with. That they are not perfect, but flawed, defensive, and vulnerable. That they are someone’s parent, partner, neighbor, employer, colleagues, etc. They are as irritating as they are awesome, as petty as they are benevolent, as wounded as they are healing.

Seeing these things gives me hope; not that I can rise to the ranks of “prestige” and “position,” to be viewed and worshiped in similar awe by others. Rather, in realizing that the people I respect are merely people, complex and nuanced, I am given hope that a life of personal significance is possible. That I am able to be someone that I personally respect and value. I can live out the story I’ve told myself and offer the world answers to the questions that I struggle with. I can be imperfect, flawed, and vulnerable, and have that be meaningful. I can contribute in the small or the grandiose, and both are equally valuable if offered in the sincerity and authenticity of my own spirit.

Meet your heroes. Get checked by reality, and learn the subtle truths of that knowledge. Then go become your own hero.

Shifting Sands and Good Earth

I stand on a hill of craving, understanding and pleasing. I search for, and find awareness of my fears. My desire to please, to set my standards by the bar of others’ expectations builds the hill daily. It is a landfill of attachments; clinging to the shifting safety of connection to people I deem important and hold higher, more divine than myself. The more I know others, the less I know myself as I study, with hawklike attention, the faces of those I love for signs of my worthiness. I think I am climbing, but I am only fighting to maintain my ground.

Words like “success,” like “greatness,” and “achievement,” are the machines I have used to form these keepsakes into a semblance of structure. I inhabit them, and they inhabit me. The bedrock of my identity is laced with the  impurities of my personal fictions. I must give up all to gain all. I must step outside the parameters of my fears; the little shack on the hill must crumble. I’ve tried to wrestle it down, but have only served to build it up.

I must embrace a new way.

Breathing in, breathing out, stirring up the warm, red air that swirls within and without my body, I strive to accept and let go. To release the trinkets of my identity; because without letting them go I cannot find the treasure of my true self. I envision the things that felt most solid in my life dissolving into chaff and blowing away in the wind. There is more below, I know. Things tacit and unexplored, things assumed to be true. The hill must burn to reveal the earth beneath.

But still, I imagine the earth rising to meet me through the rubble. As I stand on the cool, damp,  soil, I sense the potential. I realize that self-knowledge begins with letting go. That true achievement, true greatness, can only come from the things that are born from my essence, in service of my authenticity. Not striving for anything but to honor my true nature, any successes will hang as fruit on the branches of my growing self. They will be consumed and enjoyed by myself and others, rather than the shifting foundation I thought I knew before. First though, I must dig deep. I must plant.

I imagine roots spreading from my feet into the earth, and I sense the intermingling of my self with that which has been bigger and a part of me all along. A seed waiting decades to germinate. And in that moment, I make a commitment, not to Grow, but to grow.

Hindsight About-Face

Why do we feel as if we need to have it all figured out? What is this obsession with surety, with knowing, and with having everything be right? I self-impose this idea that there is an absolute way that my life should go, and an absolute sense of who I should be. Where did that come from? My family, for sure. My culture, absolutely – Welcome to America. My faith, surprisingly. My relationship with God has been highly predicated on both explicit and implicit dependencies. Lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your path. I fully endorse the existential perspective for living that is driven by meaning and value; but how does a sense of concrete absolutism evolve from a spiritual acknowledgement of something bigger than myself?

“My scientist friends have come up with things like ‘principles of uncertainty’ and dark holes. They’re willing to live inside imagined hypotheses and theories. but many religious folks insist on answers that are always true. We love closure, resolution and clarity, while thinking that we are people of ‘faith’! How strange that the very word ‘faith’ has come to mean its exact opposite.”

– Richard Rohr

The curious paradox, is that the more I pursue finite direction for my life, the more I waffle on what the “correct” path should be. If you’re going to out-source your autonomy, be sure that your lines of connection are strong to the supply lines. And, be sure you’ve got the best lines.

There is a yearning inside myself, to be a force for good in the world; to be influential. It’s not enough for me to simply do good – I have to inspire good. There’s something about my developmental programming that says I cannot settle on small-scale achievement. I have to go out there and shift the paradigm. Change the narrative. Mediocrity is unacceptable. Only spectacularity will do. Where do I get that?? And why can’t I shake the feeling that it is really messed up? 

I’m trying to explore the idea that the best path for me may not be the biggest, the flashiest, or the most grandiose. I’m trying to deconstruct the story that I must live a big, amazing, earth shatteringly transformative career. Maybe, just maybe, the best path for me is the path that is shaped to who I am. Maybe there is greatness out there for my life, but I’m shoe-horning (oh yes, I’m verbing it) a definition of personal greatness into something that is not fit for me. What if, by understanding, knowing, and honoring myself, I am able to grow into my fulfilling life? What if by going inside rather than outside, my fulfilling life can grow into me?

Perhaps… perhaps I can try to begin pursuing my own greatness, a greatness defined by who and what I am, rather than what I’m told to believe I should be.

Deep Roots

Fear disrupts our feelings of being grounded, having a sense of focus, purpose, and security. I asked myself what fear I was holding on to that blocks my security and vision. This is what came out.

I am afraid of failure; that I will not be enough, and that by failing in specific instances, it will prove somehow that I am not enough. I believe that there is an invisible yardstick that I must compare myself to in order to know that I am safely “good enough.” I cannot see what is on that yardstick, but I live in fear that I will be at any given moment, “short.” I believe that others are also up against this measurement, and that by their successes, their outward confidences, they are succeeding at something I cannot. I believe that my “measuring up” is a baseline, and not an achievement. I am afraid of not reaching perfection, because perfection is my concrete, ambiguous standard. I am afraid of reaching perfection because if I do, I will cease to exist; my identity is in my striving and my failure.

I am  afraid of being insignificant. Of not mattering in a practical sense, in a cosmic sense, in a personal sense. I believe that other people can determine if I matter. I am afraid that if I do not allow other people to determine my worth, I will have no way of determining it for myself. I am afraid to allow myself to determine my own significance and value, because I do not trust my perception and judgment.

I am afraid to pursue my personal legend – a story that is free from other people’s influences, because I do not know what I want, because I am not sure I know who I am. I am afraid to discover who I am, because I am not sure I will like what I will find in the search. I believe that if I am not made up of 100% goodness, then everything will be corrupted, and of no value. I am afraid that I will fall short of an invisible standard of goodness, and believe that such a thing exists, individually and universally all at once. And that lack of goodness will indicate my failure, my not being good enough, my insignificance.

I am afraid to embrace who I am because I do not know who I will become. The cycle spins and spins in an endless loop of fear and safety.

I am afraid of growth, and of not growing, and of not growing in the “right” way.

I will release my fear, and open myself to the things that are unknown. I will question the things I assume to be true, and open myself to new ways of seeing, of being, and of experiencing myself. I will allow myself to be secure in my lack of security, compassionate in my feelings of imperfection, and faithful in discovering my authentic self.

I will release my fear. I will not cling to it, nor will I force it away.

Come, teacher, and tell me of the mysteries of myself.

Gut enough

Thank you for the gift you gave me. Your time of rest, of unencumbered deferment, your reminder that the work can be done tomorrow; they replenished me. It was a day at home. It was a day of tidying up, working out, of Boy Meets World, of coffee and Chipotle and Barnes & Noble. It was a day of leaning into the sadness and the anxiety, and in so doing finding that they don’t have as much solidity as I thought. It’s ironic; I thought that I couldn’t hold up under their weight, but in fact they couldn’t hold up under mine.

I have spent my life gradually learning to trust you more. Trust your gut. What does your gut say? Gut instinct… these terms are familiar to me, but external as well. I was raised to question you, to trust others’ perspectives more. I was so often told that I was wrong, my voice silenced, my opinions invalidated, that I could silence you like the flipping of a switch. How thankful I am, that in recent years we have become friends again. You have become a trusted advisor, and I have benefited from the wisdom you channel.

Maybe this time of struggle is not yet finished. Maybe there will be more tears, and maybe there will be more dark thoughts. Despite this, I can feel more firmly the transience of it all. There is a light in the darkness, and a day of rest has helped me to kindle it. Like all moments of rest in struggle, I catch a glimpse of the growth I can take away; of what I can learn about myself and from myself in this time. I realize what I need more of in my life, and that gives me direction.

I trust you, gut, and that’s ‘gut’ enough (puns, hah.) Let’s keep on climbing.