Sunday, December 26, 2010

Turning the Corner

In my experience, both personally and professionally, things don't tend to change in an instant but very slowly over a long period of time. Occasionally, though, I've experienced or witnessed some kind of psychological/emotional sea change that surprises me. About two weeks ago, a couple of things converged all at once that flooded me with grief, loss, despair, hurt and anger. That was probably one of the two lowest points of the past year and a half or so. It was so primal I couldn't even fully understand what was happening for me. It's like I imploded. 

The real surprise came over the next day or so. I woke up the next morning and felt lighter. I felt liberated from a weight I'd been carrying around in my heart. It doesn't feel like a straightforward change (e.g., that I was worried about something and now I'm not worried any more). It feels like something deeper and more systemic shifted and created a sort of chain reaction. I wondered if the new state would last for long and I'm finding that it actually is. I was concerned about how the holidays would be since it was a year ago today (12/26) that I moved out of our home. Turns out that I've enjoyed the holidays and haven't felt too sad or depressed. It's still on my mind, of course, but I've been doing pretty well!

I still feel pretty calm and more optimistic about the future. I have ideas about how to continue this life transition in ways that will help me grow and reflect more deeply. They mostly center around mindfulness, compassion, creativity and some of the teachings of Pema Chodron. 

She's a Buddhist nun who has written lots of books and has recorded many of her presentations. I first borrowed some CD's (OK - I illegally copied them...) from my sister Sarah some time ago and have finally gotten around to listening to them. I don't ever see myself becoming a real practicing Buddhist but she speaks to me at this time in my life. She talks about the importance of having the courage to experience pain and struggle rather than trying to escape from it. She sees these experiences as opportunities to build wisdom and compassion. 

She also emphasizes the importance of loving kindness toward others and ourselves. It sounds like common sense but actually practicing compassion and loving kindness is really difficult. The way she talks about these things feels very accessible and accepting. It feels a little bit like I'm at such a vulnerable place that I'm ready and open for these ideas. 

In addition, in my field (and many others), there's so much information coming out about how plastic the brain actually is. I think I've had the idea that I can't really change my fate; that the things I haven't liked about myself or have felt are wrong with me can't be changed. More and more, I'm learning that our brains can change. I'm not locked into repeating old patterns and feelings again and again and again. 

I feel empowered by the possibilities these changes are opening up for me. I'm sure I'll have good days and bad. My hope is to be able to develop equanimity -- this is a concept Pema Chodron talks about a lot. I thought I knew what it meant but looked it up to be sure. Equanimity is "mental or emotional stability or composure, esp. under tension or strain." Synonyms are "calm, composed, balanced, tranquil." 

Here are some quotes by Pema Chodron that I especially like right now:
  • Gloriousness and wretchedness need each other. One inspires us, the other softens us.
  • You're the only one who knows when you're using things to protect yourself and keep your ego together and when you're opening and letting things fall apart, letting the world come as it is - working with it rather than struggling against it. You're the only one who knows.
  • Sometimes the completely open heart and mind of bhodichitta is called the soft spot, a place as vulnerable and tender as an open wound. It is equated, in part, with our ability to love. [...] Sometimes this broken heart gives birth to anxiety and panic, sometimes to anger, resentment, and blame. But under the hardness of that armor there is the tenderness of genuine sadness. This is our link with all those who have ever loved. This genuine heart of sadness can teach us great compassion. It can humble us when we're arrogant and soften us when we are unkind. It awakens us when we prefer to sleep and pierces through our indifference. This continual ache of the heart is a blessing that when accepted fully can be shared with all."
A little less than two years ago, I described myself as waking up. It's been such a difficult painful journey but I've maintained my resolve to be awake in my life and to be authentic in my choices; to finally shed the shame that's been my burden for most of my life. I'm hoping that I'm turning a corner; that I'll finally start feeling the peace of mind and even joy that comes with living authentically and without toxic shame.  

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