Working Together

"We shape our self
to fit this world

and by the world
are shaped again..."

Excerpt from "Working Together" © David Whyte
in The House of Belonging

Many Rivers Press

Friday, May 17, 2013

Encouragement: Putting a Bird On It

It is approaching summer Solstice already and I'm keenly aware I've written little about my word of the year, encouragement. It is not for lack of wanting to. I miss blogging but my journey in starting over has proven to take everything I've got  to keep my mind from wandering so I can learn new skills.   I was never very focused and disciplined in the first place and now...well, this process is making big demands on me and there you have it.  It is not like I have not been paying attention to encouragement, however.  I give it when I can and savor every bit of it that comes my way.  I write daily in my journals to keep an eye on how the word is wending its way into my life. An actual pattern has emerged over this last three months. I can, at least, share that.

I apologize in advance for this long winded, self absorbed narrative with too many "I"s. This is a complicated subject for me and there is a certain amount of writing my way to a better understanding involved. This blog is more a memoir or ethical will than a bold narrative for public consumption, so consider yourself warned.

In practical, mundane matters the journey to finding enough work to make my situation sustainable slogs on like a slow divorce. I get frustrated and then I remember that even in my younger years a major change in my life direction generally took up to three years to stabilize. I swear I was carried through each of those changes, however, so completely different is this experience at 60 years of age! I go to my clients with a renewed sense of purpose each day. I do my best and I enjoy my work.  I still can't say I'm very good at what I do but I'm hopeful. I feel myself melding into a new self that does not live in a cubicle and slog to the beat of some distant administrator's drum. I have my own sloppy and awkward rhythm that I dance to daily. I feel like I'm floating somewhere between retirement and being independently impoverished. It suits me and I'm settling into it. I feel a little discomforted and scared yet it all somehow feels appropriate for right now. It could be worse.

On mental and emotional illness and what happens with encouragement.

One of the most profound realizations that I've had this year has been about coping skills and how, if outdated, they can become serious detriments to personal growth.  I was always somewhat sensitive as a child and in consequence became wildly insensitive to over-compensate as a teen.  Then, after having children, I simply began going flat out around the bend due to unresolved childhood trauma and untreated abuses.  I began acting out. Through this wild maze of consequences a few self regulatory coping skills were created.  They served their purpose to keep me contained at the time but no longer work well for me.  These dysfunctions have surfaced en masse - I assume because the thing about encouragement is, you have to allow it in to use it.

Many of the demons that scared the life out of me when I was young have not disappeared but because of  time, experience and their tenacious quality, I am in a new relationship with them.  I've come to own a few things that chased me unrelentingly through the dark corridors of my mind for decades.  Little by little, they have been faced down and tamed or calmed spending all of their terrifying and disagreeable incarnations.  They live in me still and it is pretty crowded with all those old grappling hooks and various devises moldering in there.  Consequently, encouragement (along with inspiration) is left waiting at my threshold for room to abide.

Encouragement gets dicey when there is no trust in sources and so, in working with this word over the past few months, as stated, these access problems have exposed spiritual and relationship obstacles  There is no room in me for encouragement as my psychic rooms are all filled with devils designed to keep me safe...mostly from myself and my unsettling and guilty past. They are are maintained by a shear force of will that flies into action at the first sign of any excitement or trespass...and more recently, umbrage. I chose self control and behavior modification over medication; right or wrong, it seems a better choice for me.

Obviously life isn't really worth living if there is no excitement so there are strategic cracks in my demeanor to let the light in (to paraphrase Leonard Cohen) and as I have grown older and more confident, I have found that a little bit of light is "kind of" okay.  Like my activity of blogging and like choosing the word "encouragement" for my word of  the year and ignoring the possibility that I might have to romp through my history of mental illness to be able to access the fruits of my efforts...a clever bit of personal sabotage.   I've gotten used to it being okay to be a bit carefree thanks to taking chances on making friends who are not put off by me being a bit weird. It also helps to be old and forgetful...and religiously avoiding rereading what I write. I remember enough, thank you.

Oddly enough (or perhaps predictably) during the most tumultuous and turbid times when I was young, I received a rescue; a relief in the form of a spiritual emergency.  Consequently I am acutely aware that encouragement  is everywhere - absolutely EVERYWHERE... There is an amazing amount of support available to tap into beyond the incessant drone and high pitched wail of waking life. I've also experienced tumbling down from the pinnacle of consciousness to find myself in a corresponding living hell. As a result, I have a deep distrust and a tenuous relationship with the ways the Universe has in making a point with me. There was nothing in my spiritual education that prepared me for experiencing the full throttle life force at such a young age. Afterward, my first reaction to good fortune befalling me from the Universe has been a silent earth shattering interior scream of alarm; followed by skepticism; followed by mild acceptance, generally, making it a pretty bumpy ride to prosperity.

To return - or fall - from these places of consciousness and Grace is a decent into terrifying darkness. It is like waking from a vivid falling dream and, even with knowing it is a dream and not a part of the real world, it is felt that something has changed.  Then the realization hits that the dream has somehow become reality. The coping devise created here is to continue with the negotiations of daily living from memory; distance myself as much as possible and go on trying to ignore the experience and corresponding changes. Show no fear. That focus tempered the darkness that consumes that kind of light. Having two babies in diapers underfoot also mitigates things (as well as seems to increase the velocity of the drop and the impact of the danger if things are not made safe).

Creative enterprises are the absolute worst for letting loose all the bats from my belfry. At times in the past, before I realized I had a serious mental health issue, I would write stories and letters I shouldn't have sent; I made drawings; I shared myself and acted out all across the land with emotionally disastrous results thinking that everything was funny and fantastic. I was a scary freak show in realty. It was fortunate that I didn't get into more trouble than I did. In the end I learned not to share and I established a personal code to prevent trouble from setting up housekeeping.  Periodically over the years I would forget the code and do odd things anyway... Almost always the endeavor would end up blowing up in my face like an exploding cigar. Now I blog and that clearly seals my doom within that old paradigm. The rub with consciousness is that I know I'm not going to get out of this life without living some of it at times. The question I struggle with right now is how am I going to forgive the mistakes I have made so I can receive the encouragement I need to live fully and move forward?  An answer could be by letting the encouragement strengthen me and help make some room for positive reinforcement.

The view from under the parasol...can it get any worse?

One of the more embarrassing spectacles I made for myself in my 20's during my meltdown years in Portland, Oregon included writing a parody of the Lone Ranger and Tonto.  I was quite proud of it and because the universe was having it's way with me the story was a marvel of political incorrectness.  It was written with the POV of  Tonto who rattled on like Woody Allen in broken English to an impossibly stoic and silent white guy who was the Lone Ranger, if I recall correctly. I was so clueless, it never occurred to me that anyone would be offended by the 50's Hollywood version of  the Native American vernacular that I employed.  I made sure as many people as possible could read it. When  I realized my error, I was mortified! I wore the shame for years after writing that thing and it effectively tempered my creativity and kept me somewhat safe and quiet in the world.. Later, of course, I realized I was writing about two conflicting parts of my own personality...(even with that understanding, Tonto represents a life force and is contrary to the side kick premise of the story as presented in the 50's). So it seems, as with many things - if you live long enough - the statute of limitations on humiliation will lift because on a curious surf of the internet I found the following:  A notice from the powers-that-be; an encouragement, if you will, to make a run to Goodwill with a donation:

I saw the above trailer and laughed and laughed in a self absorbed kind of maniacal way, I'm ashamed to admit,  I still think it is funny to see Tonto as a humorous character.  My discomfort over the movie is this:  It is a white guy...playing an Indian ..and talking like an idiot. My memory of my own story and my guilt rattles about me like the chains on Jacob Marley's ghost! I thought what I wrote was funny and I forgave myself because I was so messed up at the time but I was really more concerned about appearing to be stupid than understanding the depth of my transgression...and now here we are. That old Lone Ranger and Tonto chestnut mired deep within the collective pool of creativity has been dredged up by Hollywood...Disney, no less (how sadly appropriate!); now it is an embarrassment on Hollywood, I suppose...(and Depp and Bonham Carter?...That is disappointing). I watched that trailer and I forgot that the racial degradation of Native Peoples seriously needs to go the way of pickaninnies, Sambo, black face, uncle Tom and all the other unacceptable racially negative stereotypes. I feel bad about laughing but however discordant the packaging some of the imagery reflected accurate metaphors for me personally, obviously. It created a conflict. I've thought for days on it because, it is evident to the aware the appropriate reaction is outrage the minute Depp opens his mouth. What, beyond the attraction of driving by a really bad accident, was I looking at? I'm thinking that it is because, while I recognized what I did was wrong years ago, I never truly accepted and understood that so much of what I have is built and maintained on the backs of an entire race of people who were and still ARE treated abhorrently in their own country.

I still have a storm of unrest in my heart and head in this issue which I want to lay to rest as I can. I 'd like to stop being ashamed about writing a politically incorrect parody on the Lone Ranger and Tonto and send the whole set of restraints and coping devises designed to keep me from expressing myself packing.  Clearly, it was a set up to keep myself under control and it worked very well.  Someone had to keep me alive until I could get help; I was such a train wreck (to overwork the metaphor). I now need room for encouragement because even though I've been an asshat, it is time to put a bird on it and laugh...not at the racial slur or the missed opportunity for supporting and embracing a Native American artist to write a better hero story than what the industry came up with; but laugh in realizing the incredible miracle within art, creativity and imagery and how damnable it is that the smallest intention to do the right thing and the biggest mistakes are never lost until they are completely healed and corrected.

I find my confessions here scary yet liberating and I'm feeling a little excitement...just a little. I don't want to get too carried away or anything and end up on medication... but when I hear the antagonist, Latham Cole snarl at the Lone Ranger representing one part of me, "...there's no stopping this train.  I think you know that".  I can't help but smile to myself and ask, "Who am I to question the Great Father?" and let all the bad bits transform and return to the great mystery - full of life, light and laughter once more. I can feel encouragement...for awhile.

1 comment:

none said...

You're a courageous writer, Cile. I read this thoughtfully and slowly. Isn't it funny how we let our past mar our present? (Me too! I'll bet most people relate...) That we just can't grasp, without intentional reminders (or writing exercises ;-) ), over and over, that we actually get to choose a happy present if we want it? Yes - open those dusty windows of your soul to encouragement from all directions! Love, E