Monday, October 5, 2015

With What Is

My mom is really good at games.  She fills out crosswords in record time, answers trivia questions with ease, and loves to watch game shows when she gets a chance.  Growing up, Jeopardy! came on right around the time Mom started making dinner, and I think it helped her manage the stress that came from feeding 7 other people for the THIRD time in one day, knowing she'd be doing it again and again and again.
"What is."
It was the most common "answer" to all of the Jeopardy! trivia.
Except it wasn't an answer, it was a question.  The maddening paradox of Jeopardy! is the "answer in the form of a question" rule because, of course, the questions were actually answers.

This last week, I found myself stuck in a place I like to call "What Is." It's a place where I find answers to questions.  Rather, it's a place where I WAIT for answers to questions.
I LOVE research.  I think I inherited my mother's hunger for information, but it came without the ribbons and fanfare... I am absolute BUNK at games and trivia and I can only finish crosswords with a cheat sheet.

Research lights me on fire, especially when I'm researching PEOPLE.  The best pay off in research in ANSWERS.  I love getting answers.

But what happens when you don't get them as you're looking for them?  What happens when there's no book to look in?  Nothing to punch into the Google search bar?  No person to call for YOUR OWN answer?

This is the place, "What Is."
Sitting in "What Is" has proven time and time again to be one of the most uncomfortable experiences of my life.  I squirm because I am NOT patient.  The lack of answers becomes more painstaking than the actual question.

There's a Zen saying -a humorous one -that goes, "Don't just do something -sit there."
Yes, it's funny.  But it is also SO FREAKING SPOT ON for me.  (I'm reading about Zen-like stuff right now.  More about that soon...)

I happened to read an article in a church magazine this last week that was really, really hard for me.  It was about pornography and there was truth in it, but I felt (and feel) there was something off.
So what IS IT?
WHY am I feeling this?

I was triggered.  I reached out and prayed, I called my sponsor.  I processed and I still felt a painful stab in my heart -I felt OFF all around, and I couldn't seem to burst out of the feeling of it all.

I WANTED TO BE OKAY while I waited, while I sat with What Was. Being calm in stressful situations is a personal goal of mine, and I was frustrated with myself -that I WASN'T calm while I waited for answers from God.  In short, I was impatient with myself and impatient with God's lack of answer.
And that double-fold impatience because heavier than the questions I had!

I was annoying myself.

Leading up to this point, God had carefully prepared me. I had gotten back into doing my dailies, and the day I'd read the article, I was in a good place emotionally, physically and spiritually. In the days leading up to my reading the article, I'd been reading a book loaned to me by a friend -it isn't a recovery book at all, but IT ACTUALLY IS.  It's a book about yoga, and as I read it, I feel like my soul is getting a massage, and sometimes I fall asleep because it just FEELS so good.

Days before reading the article, I read a passage in the book that put words to something I'd been trying to put words on for years... the place known as "What Is."

"Through patience, you can possess your soul.  When you catch yourself speeding through life, when you feel you must meet expectations and that so much of being left undone or that you're not succeeding as quickly as you think you should be, you must remember that real growth doesn't come from pushing through or breaking out of anything.  Rather, it comes through a gentle melting in.  The path of patience asks you to be okay with what is, stare it straight in the eye, and open to and learn from what's happening rather than contracting into fear, frustration, and a hidden drive to meet your expectations at any costs.  We must remember that when everything has to be right, something usually isn't." ~Baron Baptiste, "40 Days to Personal Revolution"

As I talked with my sponsor and processed my swirling reaction, I said, "I need to MELT IN."  The next day after I called her again to be accountable for my lack of serenity that was still hanging on, I left a message on her phone and then looked up at my husband and said, "I need to figure out how to be calm and find peace in WHAT IS."
So many prayers were said.
Tears popped to my eyes as I tried to force open a heart that felt hard during General Conference.

 I was reminded of another passage in the book that absolutely fascinated me.

"Each year, I conduct a weeklong bootcamp in the mountains of Montana.  A Lakota elder medicine man takes us through a sweat lodge ceremony, in which up to ten of us sit close together in a pitch-dark tent around a blazing fire, praying and chanting.  I always notice an interesting phenomenon: certain people insist on sitting right by the little exit flap of the tent.  They are adamant, claiming they must be near the door.  I have witnessed these same people break down into intense emotions, fear, and often racking sobs.  You later hear them say that as the steam and heat increased and filled the space with full intensity, they were sure that something terrible was going to happen.  They convinced themselves to stay by saying that if they were near the door, they would be able to make it through to the end.  The truth is that even if they didn't sit by the door, they would make it through.
In our total commitment to inner revolution and growth, we don't get to sit near the door.  We don't get to duck out if the process becomes uncomfortable.  We learn to stay with ourselves, no matter what." ~Baron Baptiste, "40 Days to Personal Revolution"

On Sunday, some solid answers came.  Mercifully short timing.

How can I learn to be okay while I sit in "What Is"?
There's no trivia answers, no outside answer, nothing I can read or study or outline or memorize... the answer is deeply personal to me and found deep within myself.

I can only access it by delving inside -by STAYING WITH MYSELF, no matter what.

I hope I'll get better at it, and I know it will take a great deal of practice.  My impatience is truly one of my grandest stepping stones to God (that's just a nice way of saying it's my biggest thorn in my side).

This morning, I walked outside into the fresh, crisp morning and let my toes enjoy the wet grass -it rained last night... the heavy, gorgeous kind of rain where the sheets fall so fast it looks like mythical creatures are dancing in mid-air.  This morning, everything was new.  I let my bare feet soak up the wet green grass.
How much longer will our grass be green?
I don't think about it.  I can't live in the future.  It's just a shadow of the present, as my pretend-friend James Allen says.
I keep quiet.  I had purposefully NOT checked social media before heading outside.  I pay attention to my breath, and it feels like I'm oxygenating anew my entire being -the stale air from my bedroom was exiting through my mouth as I breathed in the brand new air from the after-storm.
My mind begins to wander and I practice being gentle about pulling it back.  I'm mildly successful.  I begin my prayers, and find that as I pray and give thanks for what it around me and with me, I want to drop my hands down to my side, palms facing forward.
With my mind still and calm, my eyes closed, my palms open, mirroring my heart, I tell God I am ready.
At that exact moment, the sun burst forth from behind a dark rain cloud.  Though my eyes remained closed, I could feel the light.  I could "see" the light changing, everything brightened up behind my eyelids, and I felt God's warm love wash over me completely.

In that moment, I found that What Is was in my front yard, and that God lives forever in What Is.
What Is isn't always painful, but it always has the potential to be peaceful and it always is a place where I can learn, grow and increase in wisdom and humility.

What Is.
It's elusive and also?  The only place we really have.
The past can't be be fully lived in.
The future can't be fully lived in.
Trying to live from from either of them produces only pain, regret, and a shallow kind of life.

The present is What Is.

(I feel like I need to add a disclaimer: I took the pictures AFTER being present.  I didn't snap them in the moment because snapping pictures has the potential to sometimes take me OUT of the moment. Amen.)

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Back to the Beginning

"I can learn to do that again," I said a few minutes before hanging up.  I had called my sponsor -something I've done pretty sparsely these last few months. 
Learning to do things again is something I'm becoming very familiar with.  My ego HATES it.

Yesterday I sat in my big, broken-in leather easy chair with rips on the arm.  It swallows me whole, and I understand why men on sitcoms fight their TV wives to keep their ripped recliners around.  I don't care if it's ugly -it is beautiful to me.  Life would be harder without the recliner.

I finished up a documentary I'd been mildly interested in when I clicked on it and wildly fascinated with when the ending credits rolled.  It was short -only an hour -and it was about a woman channeling healing through yoga following the death of her mother.  I was amazed to find so much truth, so much of the work I do in recovery is in yoga!  As I listened to them talk about finding and accessing serenity within, about honoring our innate, something hit me.
Something that felt really heavy.

I'd allowed myself to be talked out of honoring my innate.  I'd second-guessed, I'd doubted, and I'd allowed others to speak to me in a way that was NOT okay.
I didn't realize it was even happening in the moment.  I didn't realize it until WEEKS later.

I realized I'd spent the last few weeks in a place I'd been in before -a dark and scary place where truth and light are sparse, a snake hole... a dark tunnel, my anxiety keeping me nice and tense as I waited for an inevitable strike.

I picked up the phone and called my sponsor. After a frank conversation about my lack of REACHING OUT, she said to me, "Recognizing when our serenity is gone is one of the first pieces of the foundation of our recovery."
My shoulders fell so hard I thought they hit the floor.
Shouldn't I be BEYOND this now?  I've been working the steps for almost 6 years!

My mind shot back to a few months before when I'd joined a meeting via phone and after leaving my first share there ever, someone remarked, "Alicia, I remember how hard it was for me when I was first starting out as well."
I laughed in a cry sort of way.

I took a walk with God last week.  I thought I was surrendering to Him what I couldn't control, but there was so much inside of me that was EATING THROUGH me.  I didn't know what to do or how to do it or where to go.  I sat on the banks of my Dad's irrigation ditch and I prayed as the Arizona sun soaked into my skin.
"I'm so sick all of the time.  What is the POINT?  Do I have a point right now?  Or is my job just to be sick?  What is there to learn from sickness?"
I vented to God and tears welled up in my tired eyes.  I talked to Him about marriage, how marriage is really very hard and how I didn't know it would be!  I didn't expect it to be EASY but I couldn't have prepared for how HARD IT IS.
How do I manage my anxiety?  Can You take it?
How do I let go of things I can't control?  Will You take them?
What can I do to get better?  What can I take or read or try?

I opened my eyes after a solid "amen" and they landed on the roots of a tree I've seen a million times before without every really SEEING.
I felt God communicate with me.
The trunk, branches and leaves of the tree were strong... but when I looked down, the roots were exposed.  This tree is a Chinese Elm -it grew spontaneously and I know from experience how hard they are to get rid of.  I truly hate them.  You can cut them, you can burn them... but unless you get at their very roots, you are wasting so many valuable hours and so much precious energy on futility.

And there.
There on the ditch bank, staring up at me, were ROOTS. The water rushing by had washed the dirt away and exposed the roots.  The tree is weak.

I snapped a picture of the roots and nodded at God.  I have been fussing over branches again.  I have been ignoring the roots again.
I have been trying to manage the symptoms that come up when I ignore the roots.  Anxiety and sickness and disconnection and confusion run rampant when I choose to stay with danger... when I choose NOT to keep myself safe, chaos takes over.  When I go to God with my discomfort, with my fear and then I TAKE ACTION... peace reigns.

I thought I was, but you know what big piece was missing?
The accountability piece.  My sponsor didn't have to say it. I knew it.  In my going to God, I was being half-heartedly accountable to Him, but I wasn't reaching out to the very precious support system in place around me.  Those angels on earth, sent to lift me as I lift them! My sisters in group, my sisters in my support circles, my sponsors (neither of them), my Bishop!

I hadn't reached out for accountability.

I set some self-boundaries with my sponsor... that I wouldn't allow myself to be disrespected and that I would call her anytime I feel my serenity taken, just for the sake of REACHING OUT and getting outside of the crazy! 

I thought my serenity hadn't been taken very much (at least, not enough to warrant reaching out) because I've worked recovery so long that there's naturally an added measure of serenity ALREADY HERE.  And you know what?  That's true.  But Satan took that truth and spoke it quietly, giving me opposition in the form of reality:

You don't need to reach out because you already know what to do.

And while I pondered on that thought -that I already knew what I needed and didn't need to bug anyone else -slowly the chains of self-doubt grew around me. Pride wrapped them quietly and surely around my very busy body.  My anxiety worsened, my health worsened!

It's hard on my pride, my ego, that I don't know things... that I don't know MORE.  It's REALLY hard.  It was hard to hear someone believe that I was in the beginning stages of recovery when in reality I'd been working solid recovery for over 5 years!  It's hard to have to say the words, "I can learn to do that again."
My pride HATES it!
But I'm beginning to accept that recovery, for me, is simply a series of beginnings... and when I veer from that place of new beginnings, I'm on The Pride Road.

Why has God marked this path out for me?
I don't know.  I wish He'd marked a path full of wisdom and knowledge that I can charitably give to the universe, but He didn't.  My path is a path of mystery, of journeys waiting for embark! discovery! for the countless "first steps!"

It's beautiful in it's own right, and when my pride takes a back seat, I can really, truly appreciate it and feel deep and abiding gratitude for it.

Today I'm learning how to recognize when a situation is not safe for me again.
I'm learning that suffering is a beautiful, sacred gift reserved for the best-loved (hint: us all).
I'm learning that I don't know anything except that I want to live small in the world and large in the camp God has within my soul.

Speak your words and I will hold them.
Reveal your weariness and I will see it.
Present your pain, and I will validate it.
Show me your path, and I will respect it.
You are God's.
God is within you.
This humbles me and empowers me because
It means I am God's.
God is within me.
Divinity is The Great Equalizer.

Here's to Step 10 (Accountability) and to roots and beginning... and here's to God, my master, my keeper, my most intimate connection to a home beyond the ditch bank lined with rouge Chinese Elms.