As part of my ongoing attempts to shift my mood and emotional state, I have been slowly doing a bit of rearranging at home. I’m trying to reduce clutter, brighten things up a bit, clean out stuff I no longer want/need, change things around to give a sense of newness.
It feels really good … to me, anyway. My cats are much less enthused about this process.
Today marked the end of both the semester and of my Christmas “doing” for this year. All gifts have been made, purchased, and given (or at least shipped). Cards have been given or mailed. Baking is done. I can now rest.
And as I settled in tonight to rest from the busyness of the last couple of weeks, I had a startling realization: I actually enjoyed my gift giving this year! This probably sounds odd to most people, but gift giving occasions (birthdays, Christmas, etc.) are usually times of intense anxiety and stress for me.
“If you are not afraid of the voices inside you, you will not fear the critics outside you.” ~Natalie Goldberg
The past few years have been hard on me. They have involved an awful lot of very big changes for me and that has meant spending a lot of time putting myself out there in new ways that were risky and often did not have much support. And I’ve done a lot more failing and encountering devastating criticism* and subtle undermining doubts from others than I had expected.
I’ve been realizing lately just how much this experience is leading me to focus on safety and hiding. I increasingly measure everything I do, every decision I make, and everything I say by how likely it is to provoke criticism (direct or indirect) from others. I spend a lot of time hiding—my gifts, my knowledge, my abilities, my preferences, my self—from people around me in an attempt to stave off more criticism and thus feel safe again.
I caught myself thinking this the other day. I recognize it as a standard bit of my usual self-talk, but I really heard it for the first time recently. Where on earth did a thought like this come from in the first place? How did the goodness of life become a source of discomfort for me?
My life journey over the past few years has been one involving lots of change and transformation. While change is hard enough in and of itself, this particular bout of change has had the additional challenge in that so much of it has involved moving away from what’s expected of me to dance to the beat of my own drum.
While learning to be more authentically myself has been a wonderfully freeing experience, choosing to be different from the culture around me has often been challenging. The set of links that I have collected for tonight are all about learning to be oneself in a world that would really prefer that we conform to the mold. These are great encouragement!
“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. Security does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than exposure.” ~Helen Keller
I have koi ponds in my back yard that I inherited from the former owner. This past weekend brought our first freezing weather, so I had to take the first step of starting to prepare the ponds for winter weather by bringing the tropical plants that normally live in the pond inside to live in big plastic tubs of water for the winter. As part of this process of transferring the plants indoors, I drag them out of the water to let them drain, cut them back, trim away the excess roots extending out the sides of the pots, and clean out dead leaves, algae, and other debris from the surface of the pots.
As I was doing this for one of the biggest of the plants, I discovered an area on the surface of the pea gravel in the pot that was shiny. A little investigation revealed that this was a small frog that had taken refuge in the dead leaves that had collected at the base of the plant stalks.
“When you refrain from habitual thoughts and behavior, the uncomfortable feelings will still be there. They don’t magically disappear. Over the years, I’ve come to call resting with the discomfort ‘the detox period,’ because when you don’t act on your habitual patterns, it’s like giving up an addiction. You’re left with the feelings you were trying to escape. The practice is to make a wholehearted relationship with that.” ~Pema Chödrön (from Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change, page 36)
I get a weekly email with Pema’s Heart Advice of the week. The above quote was the one I received today. (It can also be found in blog form on Shambhala Publications website.)
I know this feeling of being in the detox period well. As I have been working on shifting patterns in my life that are no longer helpful, I frequently encounter these detox period where my emotions have been triggered but I’m choosing not to engage in my usual coping behaviors. Instead, I am left to sit with those feelings that I normal try to escape, minimize, or at least distract myself from feeling.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what causes me to be so hesitant to create. I’ve explored all of the usual fears about failure and success, and I am aware of how those fears do get in my way. But I’ve always been aware that there’s something more holding me back that I haven’t been able to identify.
As I’ve wrestled with this today in preparation for writing tonight’s post, two intertwined gremlins in my thinking have surfaced that may explain more of why this is such a struggle for me.
I mentioned earlier this week the discussion at Sunday’s worship sharing about simplicity. Afterwards, one of the members of the worship group shared the following quote (from Inward/Outward) and suggested that using the word “simplicity” in place of the word “poverty.”
“The true rule of poverty consists in giving up those things which enchain the spirit, divide its interests, and deflect it on its road to God–whether these things be riches, habits, religious observances, friends, interests, distastes, or desires–not in mere outward destitution for its own sake. It is attitude, not act, that matters; self-denudation would be unnecessary were it not for our inveterate tendency to attribute false value to things the moment they become our own.” –Evelyn Underhill
Simplicity does indeed involve giving up those things that ensnare us and get in our way in our spiritual lives rather than giving things up just for the sake of denying ourselves. In fact, self-denial for its own sake can be a snare in itself.