The Importance of Knowing Yourself

These are fascinating times to be living in the good ol’ United States, aren’t they? Negotiating new highs and lows in society, dredging all sorts of muck up to the surface. It’s good, though difficult, because airing all this dirty laundry can allow for some deep dialogues to happen, dialogues that need to happen for evolution to come. But in order for these times to be fruitful, we need to reaching deep into our inner selves and know ourselves to the best of our abilities. And I know some of us are more equipped to do that than others.

How often do you take the opportunity for self-reflection? How often, when you make a decision on anything, do you actually think about the consequences of your action or inaction? Do you know what it is you want out of relationships, career, family, life? Do you know what you need? Have you ever acknowledged that sometimes those wants and needs aren’t very well aligned? Self- reflection can get really uncomfortable. But it is necessary.

If you don’t know yourself well, you open yourself up to coercion, to being swayed from your inner compass. You are easily programmable by both the systems set up in our society and by individuals you interact with. You succumb to the marketing schemes of the corporations. You externalize your self-worth and feel like you always fall short.

If you know yourself well, you can recognize others’ attempts to manipulate you, and you can choose to play along or not. You have the conviction of knowing what is right for you and that gives you courage to both ask for what you want or need and to give an emphatic yes or no to others making requests on you. You can stand solid against the tide and always have an intrinsic sense of self-worth.

The trick though is that it’s not a one time checking in with the inner self, but a constant balancing act between your inner and outer lives. It’s easy to slip into autopilot again, to get worn out by life and the craziness of others, to float wrapped in bubble wrap and expect others to handle everything for you. Being willing to live with a little discomfort for the sake of strength and mental clarity and freedom is so worth it though.

It took me until I was 30 years old to really grasp all of this, and it’s through having some really deep conversations with those I care about this past year to realize how important it is for society in general and not just for my own individual life. We collectively are to the point where we need to step up and parent ourselves, get our shit together, and do the work that has to be done. We aren’t allowed to be children or adolescents anymore, humanity. There’s just way too much that has to happen in our lifetimes for us to have that luxury. And the first step to being able to raise ourselves up is knowing the length and breadth of our inner selves. Take that first step, see how it feels, then reach out a hand to others to help them do the same.

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The Shifting Sands

There is a growing energy shift taking place across the world. I can feel it, see it in the individuals around me, watch it unfold on a global scale. It is as though collectively we’re shaking ourselves like a wet dog. It’s hard to stay present and grounded while the movement is happening, and maybe that’s not the point right now anyway.

I think we need to fully experience these shifting sands. We need to be strong enough to survive the chaos that is growing and supple enough to bend when we have to. We need to acknowledge when the ground is knocked from underneath us and get back up and keep moving anyway. We need to feel the grief of the world and the grief of individuals and process that grief in such a way that we can learn from it finally. We need to find the core of ourselves and remember that in the coming months and maybe years. We need to remember…

The future isn’t certain, but we can at least find certainty within ourselves.

Our Inner Compasses

I’ve been noticing this for a while… it is really difficult to operate as a human being in our society. For many reasons, but mostly because I think almost all of us have lost the ability to guide ourselves and trust that we’re making the right decisions. And because of the corporations and entities out there that prey on that disconnection.

We should not feel the need to justify our choices to anyone but ourselves and perhaps our family units because we should be making choices that are truly for our best and the best of that unit. But we’ve got this constant pulling between what we want short-term and what we need, at all levels, and we’ve got a constant stream of “not-good-enough’s” being shoved down our throats. And it’s from big decisions like what kind of job to take to small ones like what brand of clothing you buy. Or how we’re able to interact with one another. And because we’re insecure, we cling to articles and memes that support our viewpoint, post them on our social networks, and then make the people on our feeds who think differently feel bad about their choices. And that’s how the spiral of crazy starts on the Internet, I think.

By all means, if you find it helpful to finally identify as an extroverted introvert or believe your horoscope fits you exactly (and it is scary how accurate that can be when you factor in a full birthchart) or you find a belief system that is 100% something you want to integrate in your life, then use what you learn as tools for helping you make choices that are truly in your best interest to navigate this world. Don’t use the information as a means of putting down other’s choices or as an excuse to not grow as a person because “that’s just the way you are and always will be”.

It is extremely difficult to align yourself back up with your inner compass because society to a large extent really doesn’t want that to happen. But it is a vital and worthwhile self-improvement task to work towards.

How We Perceive Beauty

I had a new associate on my current freelance project introduce herself to me in person last night, after passing me in the hallway on Sunday and friending me on Facebook about two weeks ago. She apologized for not talking to me on Sunday, and then said she hadn’t recognized me at first. She followed it by saying, “I hope you aren’t offended, but you are so much more beautiful in real life than in your Facebook photos.” And I blinked a moment before saying of course I wasn’t offended. How could I be offended that someone thinks I’m more beautiful with my hair thrown in a messy bun, sans makeup, and running around like crazy in work mode than when I’m actually making at least half an effort to look presentable or even dressed extremely well? Could anyone be offended? Well, I guess maybe you’d like your efforts towards perfecting your outer look to be appreciated, so you could take issue on that front. But since I hate looking at pictures of myself anyway, I will never mind a compliment like that.

It got me thinking, though, about how we perceive beauty as a culture, and how some people see and appreciate the inner self pouring out into the outer, and how some people merely skim the surface. What does it take to open people’s eyes to other’s inner light, and what does it take to teach someone to let their inner self shine and show that beautiful soul on the surface? Or is the risk too great on either side for some?

Feeling the Darkness

My current side project with the arts organization I work with, aside from being the largest and most complicated thing I’ve ever done, has, in the course of my research, forced me to confront some of the very darkest sides of the American people in terms of sheer blind hatred and vitriol. And that has been really difficult for me to deal with. It felt very much necessary for the project, but having the weight of all that knowledge pushing down on me made it that much more difficult to solve the problems I needed to solve logistically while simultaneously making a statement artistically.

I am not someone who shies away from the uglier parts of humanity. It is, after all, a very real part of who we are as a species, and to ignore the reality of our inherent chaos creates very dangerous situations both personally and on a societal level, in my opinion. So when I discover new (to me) lows, I wade right in and immerse myself in the muck. I experience the darkness as fully as I can, coming from my particular upbringing and background, and attempt to come to terms with it as it is. I know I can’t manipulate it, can’t zap it away, but I have to somehow be able to wrap my mind around it. For my creative projects, if I block away the ugliness, it makes my work feel inauthentic. In life, acknowledging and accepting that part of humanity makes me more compassionate and empathetic, and it gives me the occasional opportunity to help draw others out of their own darkness. But the process is exhausting and emotionally painful. The biggest risk is losing all of my hope, but it is in those very fragile moments that the most growth and understanding occurs.

I’m moving forward now. I’ve got my direction for the project, and I’ve come to at least a temporary understanding of the darkness again. I may need to reflect some more after I get through my contractual obligations, but for the moment, I’m back to my usual self.

Exploring the “Tension of the Opposites”

After posting Walking the Inner Balance Beam last week, a dear friend of mine suggested that I look into Jung’s views on “Holding the Tension of the Opposites”. So, being me, I did a little digging around. Here is an essay on that from the Jungian Center for the Spiritual Sciences. And then I contacted another friend of mine who has a background in depth psychology to get her point of view. She filled me in on what she knew and then also mentioned that there is a similar idea in Buddhism, that Buddha was in this space of being that Jung describes and was able to laugh and lift himself above the tension. So then I did a little more research. And I have decided to explore this idea a little more deeply during my meditations and morning pages.

In brief, the idea of the “Tension of Opposites” is to hold two opposing viewpoints in your mind simultaneously and not only acknowledge the validity of both, but experience the tension between the two. That moment of experiencing is supposed to produce a third something that is “part synthesis and part transcendence” (to quote my friend). And I don’t think that I’m necessarily searching for transcendence, but being able to harness the creative energy that could potentially come from working in this vein would be really good.

I think I’ve all ready begun some of the initial groundwork I need to do, just in living with the opposites within me and trying to walk a middle ground whenever possible.  Also, back in 2006, I did a lengthy paper on The Woman Who Slept With Men to Take the War Out of Them by Deena Metzger, a novel in play format that was actually my first introduction to Metzger’s writing. And the bulk of the paper dealt with exploring the language of dualities in our society, and how the either/or mindset (or the you aren’t in my group mindset) is at the root of most of the conflicts we have as a species. Man or woman, good or evil, war or peace – I posited that having the or strongly set in our minds gives us little room for negotiating through our lives with those who differ from us, and I briefly touched on how it is especially difficult for those who don’t feel they belong to either side in the dichotomy being examined. My conclusion was that a lot might be accomplished simply by raising a future generation and training ourselves to keep and instead of or in thinking about opposites. It would be an interesting social experiment to run, but an impractical one for many reasons. And having come to that decision, I just sort of left off thinking about it except when events would happen in the world to force me towards philosophical thoughts.

So I have my work cut out for me, in my eternal quest to expand myself. It will be interesting to see where this goes.

Walking the Inner Balance Beam

My life is shifting in some big and rather wonderful ways, on a lot of fronts. I will hopefully be able to get more into specifics on that in my next post, but basically, if I can focus myself and keep really organized, I can make full use of the opportunities that life is thrusting at me. And I want to. I’ve made vast organizational strides the past couple of weeks. I’ve also set myself back on a regular creative schedule. And I’ve carved out quality family time too. But now, my brain is rebelling, in a very self-sabotaging way.

Internally, I am a creature of contradictions, a walking oxymoron. Hot-blooded and passionate and emotional while simultaneously cold and logical. Wanting order and structure and everything in it’s proper place in my daily life but needing mess and chaos to create (seriously, when I paint or draw, smudges always end up on my face, and when I bake, flour gets everywhere). Craving a sense of belonging while needing my independence. Knowing basic truths – about myself, those I’m connected with, and all of humanity – through my intuition but questioning the validity of that truth since I lack hard facts to back up the intuition. Empathetic and caring until I get overloaded and then I have to step back, so I send mixed signals to others and end up feeling as though I’m separated in a bubble of my own creation. Highly sexual and sensual but with a strong moral compass and also exuding purity to the point of almost having a Snow White effect on animals and children (and some adults). Business-oriented but with the need for regular playtime. Feeling confident in my abilities while feeling that confidence waver if I don’t get positive feedback. Wanting to nurture and love while also wanting to aggressively go after what I want in life. The artist constantly struggling with the intellectual. And so these contradictions battle for control, and I’ve struggled to find and maintain balance and usually successfully walk the line. With the new position and path I’ll be taking, though, all of these mental struggles are rising to the surface.

But it’s not just the inner balancing act that needs to happen, but the outer as well. Because I don’t live by myself, but in a family, and beyond that, in a community. So how does one decide what to give and what to take? How much can a person love and nurture and support others until they wind up being taken advantage of? How much can someone carve out time for themselves at the expense of others before it becomes selfish? And are those questions answered differently depending on who you talk to? And it’s when I get to this point that I realize my focus is gone and I want to just stop thinking for a while and retreat to my inner realms of fancy, which if I linger too long in, causes me stress and exhaustion down the road.

But I had an amazing realization last month and that is this: I am no longer afraid of myself and my potential power for change. It was a huge moment that began growing from a meditation last September, and it caused some shaky times in the following weeks as I readjusted to my new self-view. I accomplished my 2014 self-improvement goal, though, which was to learn to move despite my fear, and the world has now opened up a new path for me. I will not allow myself to throw these opportunities away or trap myself in old patterns of doubt and self-debasement, and instead will learn to balance everything with grace and strength.

The real trick is now that I no longer fear myself, I have to learn to trust myself, even with all of the inner dualities. That’s going to take a little more work.

The Things You Love

Painted Polymer Clay Heart Pendant by Shing Yin Khor of www.sawdustbear.com/

Painted Polymer Clay Heart Pendant by Shing Yin Khor of http://www.sawdustbear.com/

I began working with Deena Metzger’s Writing For Your Life again as part of my effort to reconnect with my self. And the exercise I was up to was to create a list of the things I love. It was incredibly easy to write, and the list kept growing over the next few days.

Deena Metzger writes – “How we care, what we care about, what we care for are the qualities that reveal character… it is not by one’s sins that you know someone but by what the person celebrates. We often make a fetish out of our failures, losses, and inadequacies. As a consequence, we rarely come to know what gives us joy, what we love, what and how we celebrate. And yet, at the core, we are our passions and our commitment to what we love.”

So, I’m going to share my rather long list with you, and it’s in no particular order.

The Things I Love

  • My son, my husband, my family, and my soul friends – each deserves a list of their own for their individual traits and significant moments that make me love them
  • The animals that have been a profound part of my life
  • Water – waves crashing, water falls, calm ponds, long soaks in the tub – love it all
  • The laughter of children
  • Cuddling babies
  • Autumn in all its glory – the color, the smell of the leaves and people turning on their fireplaces or burning brush, the first frost, the bite in the air
  • Wearing twirly, swishy skirts and spinning to make them swirl
  • Making friends with animals and calling every dog I meet “sweetheart”
  • Seeing the moon huge and orange in the sky and seeing too many stars to count
  • Watching flames move in candles and fireplaces and bonfires
  • Watching thunderstorms
  • Dancing and playing in the rain
  • Running and skidding across slippery, slushie sidewalks, arms out to hold my balance like I’m surfing
  • Frolicking in the snow
  • The smell of tomato sauce cooking and a bold, red wine
  • The smell of drying grass
  • The feel of grass beneath my bare feet
  • Walking barefoot on a beach with the water lapping over
  • The breeze playing through my hair
  • Hands playing with my hair, human connection
  • Hugs that are strong and last almost a moment too long
  • Sleepy lovemaking, when kisses start before you are fully awake so you feel like you might still be dreaming
  • The feel of fine fabrics between my fingers
  • A book or work of art that makes me think or allows me to escape
  • Music so beautiful that it moves me to tears or makes my body dance
  • A witty, effortless conversation
  • Creating – the process of creating anything – feeling the connection within and without as I make – music, art, writing, cooking, even carrying and birthing my son – feeling that spark of inner divinity through creation is so profound
  • Recognizing that creative spark in other people and trying to get them to recognize it within themselves

I’m not sure what kind of portrait this paints, but feel free to let me know if you have an opinion. Also, please share with me some of the things you love most in life, if you are so inclined. I would enjoy reading them.

Swimming the Depths of Myself

poolI think and I feel deeply.  Some of those that love me have told me I go too deep sometimes, which is valid.  I do over think.  I don’t believe I over feel because I don’t think that is possible, but it is definitely debatable point.

I’ve come to the realization recently, though, that I am not as open to others as I imagined myself to be.  When I am wounded emotionally, I’ve always thought that others could see the blood streaming.  When I desire, I was so certain that everyone could see my naked need.  When I carry the weight of the world on my shoulders, I wondered that no one else helped pick up the load.  But the only emotion I really show (outside of a small circle), is my happiness, because that is what I want to give people.  And, actually, my sense of humor and capacity for joy is both a gift and a curse, because being able to see the ridiculousness of any situation makes it hard to take myself seriously sometimes. Humanity is my own private inside joke, and others are sometimes fortunate enough to share the punchline.  But by and large, the rest of me remains buried deep.

I am very nuanced in my ability to pick up on others’ emotions and energies.  I’m like a funnel, and whatever comes in, I process and spit back out into the world.  This is why, I think, I have such a burning need to be creating and to stay constantly busy.  If I don’t remain active, I dwell on what I’ve absorbed.  If I spend time around selfish or negative people, it drains me.  But I shouldn’t be surprised to learn that this is an ability that not many share.  Everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses, and how boring a world it would be if this were not the case.  My assumption that everyone could read me as easily as I can read others has caused me no end of trouble through my life, though.

Beyond that, there remains the fact that I’ve hidden away the secret parts of myself over the past few years.  Imagine my surprise, thinking myself an open book and finding out that I am inscrutable in so many ways. It’s a painful discovery.  Three and 1/2 years working an office job made me so good at wearing masks that I didn’t even know I wore them anymore. It wasn’t that it was a terrible company to work for.  In fact, many of the higher ups were generous in donating to their causes, working to help the less fortunate where they could.  But the mindset was completely foreign.  They had no way to feel empathy for certain groups of people.  And rather than rock the boat, I just learned to smile and nod.  I adapted myself to become what they needed, and it was only when I started voicing what I needed from the company that I realized I was never going to get it.  The damage was done though.

Slowly, these past few months since I’ve left the office job, I’ve been working at making myself more vulnerable, both to others and myself.  But not enough, because the walls I’ve built around myself are so much higher than I thought.  Life is too short to live in fear, though, especially when what you fear is the very pieces of yourself that need most to be shared. I am going to plunge into the emotional currents of my inner self and figure this out.  It’s not easy, but I need to do it.