Instinct

My office is once again in (mostly) office form–instead of guest room form–so I decided I should use it this morning to do what I claim as my profession, and to write down some words.

 

The thing that has been most striking, and on my mind, in the past several hours remains the reactions that I have seen from people in particular contexts.  Some of the reactions I anticipated, and some of them I was taken aback by, but the thing that kept popping into my mind this morning was a vaguely remembered expression of C.S. Lewis that said something about the true nature of a person being shown when they were surprised or scared.  That idea stuck with me. If you sneak up on me and surprise me, I yell, potentially cry, and sometimes punch you. I have a lot of fear and unresolved pain on the inside, so that comes out. Cursing also comes out. I’m a woman who uses “vulgarity” with regularity, so it isn’t a hidden part of me suddenly exposing itself, but just my daily self being repeated before you.  

 

But last night I watched the Chicago Bears miss out on their big game hopes by one point with a field goal kick that should have sailed through between the posts, but for a timeout called at the most inopportune moment.  And when that loss, which was felt deeply by many, happened, there was one woman in particular whose inner self became an outer self. I’d love to know C.S. Lewis’s thoughts on what football exposes, because WOW.

 

Now, I’ve not had a good vibe from this woman from the start–for the record.  I think she is dishonest, manipulative, self-aggrandizing… But other people seem to like her just fine, so I generally keep my vibes to myself.  Last night, however, she started yelling at the television, and not just at the general disappointment toward a team but directly at a young man who did his absolute best under tremendous pressure, and didn’t meet the expectations of the whole world that was watching.  She called him a “fucking bastard” repeatedly, and demanded that he be traded by morning or … I don’t really think she is in a position to make threats against the franchise given that she is an unemployed, 50-something woman who lives in shared housing and drinks every night, so I’m not sure what she would do if they didn’t trade Parkey today.  She doesn’t seem to have much influence over the team.

 

Nevertheless, I made deescalating comments, like, “he’s just a boy”, and “you know he can make the kick, he just did it 10 seconds ago”, and “you’ve not kicked a field goal in your life, so it really isn’t fair to judge so harshly”.  She persisted, despite my objections, so I took a different approach and praised the Bears for the best season since 1985, and commented on how excited I was for next season, when they would come back even stronger. That positive outlook didn’t dissuade her either.  She just kept cussing out a boy on the screen for being a complete failure.

 

I kept thinking to myself, “This is the truth of who she is.  This is a variation on Lewis, and I am seeing the heart of this woman exposed.  No wonder she gives me the negative vibes! Her heart is hate-filled, fearful, bitter, and angry.”

 

Now, don’t get me wrong, please.  I’ve been in that space. I’m not judging her for being in that space.  I’m just ruminating on what is inside vs. outside, and what brings the inside out.  She probably has a reason that holds some validity for being as she is, currently. And I wish her all the best in working through that and coming out the other side with a better outlook and more love in her heart.  I suspect that her current situation, with the shared housing and the inability to hold down a job, are key factors in her unhappiness, and I hope that she finds a way to gain more stability. But the thing that I am so challenged by is the lying that is required to pretend that you feel one way when you so clearly feel another.

 

At some point in my history I was so good at feigning “okay” that my mind literally walled off years of abuse.  Complete repression of years of my life and experiences is the ultimate in lying, I suppose–even if it is subconscious and you have no idea that you are doing it.  But once that stuff started to come out and be remembered, the need to let it out was too great to ignore. Anger, pain, abandonment, neglect, betrayal, and more were all swirling around inside, and the ability to contain that was not an ability I possessed.  Of course, it came out at the wrong times and toward the wrong people, more often than not. I had trouble maintaining relationships or keeping jobs. I couldn’t keep my emotions in check and would have outbursts of rage or tears in the middle of situations where such things made no sense.  It was a crazy time, and it was made especially challenging because I didn’t have good mental health care during that stage and didn’t have anyone who could effectively help walk me through that chaos.

 

There were times when I worked to hold in all of that stuff and just “pretend’ life wasn’t plagued by these issues.  I could do it for a short time, but then the chaos would come out and things would spiral and I would find myself alone and broken once more.  It wasn’t until I started to let the chaos live on the outside that things started to balance out. It wasn’t until I started to accept that this was a part of who I am, and a way that I will always be, in some sense, that I could live without having a different person emerge when I was scared or surprised.  

 

Now I am the same person all of the time.  

 

Granted, we all have moments when we don’t speak honestly.  I might have a bad headache, but still go to your party–pretending it isn’t a big deal because I want to participate in your event. But that isn’t what I mean.  I mean that the fundamentals of who I am are on display all of the time.

 

I am boisterous, stubborn, intelligent, brutally honest, compassionate, a great listener, an over-sharer, and I will cry, yell, curse, or whatever else I feel moved to do in the course of everyday conversation without reservation.  I’m not afraid to speak my mind. I’m not one to back down from a fight. And I will talk to anyone and everyone present to try to make connections, because I am in love with community as and ideal. Oh yes–and I am extremely idealistic.

 

But if you have met me, you probably know all of that, because I wear it on my sleeve.  I don’t hide any of that. You don’t need to root it out or search for it. It is standing right in front of you.

 

I had a conversation last night with a woman I just met.  It became very in depth very quickly, and we were arguing a bit about hunger.  She didn’t believe my statistics about hunger related deaths in the U.S., and she felt that homeless/hungry people here are being too picky.  “If you are hungry you would eat anything”, she said. And I disagreed.

 

Obviously, my disagreement didn’t make sense to her, and this caused a mini argument.  I hold to the idea that no person should be put in a position where they are hungry enough that they would eat anything, and that it dehumanizes people to say that they should take whatever they can get, when the rest of us clearly choose only our favorites from a fancy menu of curated items.  Why shouldn’t the homeless and the working poor have options like the rest of us? Are they less human because they have less resources? Why not make certain they have resources, instead of demanding they suck it up and take what they clearly do not want?

 

At one point in the conversation, she said to me, “I’ve never been that hungry and you have never been that hungry, so we can’t understand.”

 

“I have been that hungry.  I’ve eaten my meals out of dumpsters.”

 

And there it was … I put my inside firmly on my outside.  

 

She looked at me wide-eyed for a moment and then said that she was sorry that I had been put in that position.  The conversation turned and we discussed something else. There was little else that she could say because the experience of taking whatever I could get trumped her thought experiments about what might be.  

 

But again I was thinking about the instincts.  I was thinking about the way that she made assumptions about who I am and what I have experienced because here we both were watching the Bears lose in a bar in Edgewater.  Very different lives have brought us to this moment. Very different experiences have shaped us. But she instinctively believed, by my dress and my speech and my position in the world, that we shared so much more than we actually do.

 

I didn’t disclose that I eat because of Meals on Wheels and foodstamps programs.  I didn’t disclose that I don’t care that the IRS is closed because I don’t need to file a return due to a lack of income.  But I did disclose that I am writing about racism, childhood trauma and abuse, and a history filled with challenges. I did disclose that I had surgery in November and that I manage a number of illnesses, including fibromyalgia.  I did disclose where I live, and what I do, and the birth order that puts me into middle child territory. I didn’t hide who I am or how I am. So I don’t need to be scared or surprised for the real Christy to pop out. She is always here.

 

I wonder, at times, why we all feel so much need to hide our true selves.  Are we so terrible, at our core, that we won’t find love and life and friendship and care if we are honest?  Are our issues so complex that they cannot be dealt with or resolved?

 

I don’t believe that is true.

 

In fact, I think that being genuine and true affords us more room and more time and more energy for developing strong bonds and working out what challenges us.  I believe that my life became less complicated and more positive once I started seeking to live without hiding and holding up a facade for others to view.

 

Granted, the woman at the bar who was tearing the proverbial flesh from a young boy whose best wasn’t good enough to win a game doesn’t seem like the kind of person whom you want to have “out and proud”.  But at least if her true nature was out there, something could be done to guide her into a healthier and happier space. Right now, everyone around her just feeds into the lie that she is doing fine–when she clearly isn’t feeling balanced and happy and good at all.

 

Those gut reactions are telling you something about yourself and where you are and what you need.  But if you keep your instincts hidden and locked behind doors, only letting them out when you are shocked, scared, or mad at football, you cannot hear what they are saying.  You cannot listen to what they are saying about you and your position and your needs if you keep them bottled or boxed.

 

In order to hear and see and cope, you need to start wearing those inner things on the outside.  You need to start letting the instincts flow out.

 

It isn’t an easy process, assessing the inner workings and letting them become a part of your persona, out there for everyone to see.  It is actually a very challenging process, that leaves you feeling vulnerable, exposed, and, often, wounded. But I believe that the work is worth it.  

 

I believe that having the deep things become visible in the shallows makes you better, stronger, and more beautiful.  Because working on those inner things is what offers your the opportunity for transformation. Doing that is what can make what was instinctual become obsolete, and change the way that you interact with the world.  

 

I still have moments of rage on occasion, but for the most part, that is gone.  That instinct isn’t strong anymore, because I have spent years working through why I felt that way–what brought it on, what left me out of control, and how I could change that.  I don’t need to rage at football players, because I don’t need to rage at all. Or if I do feel enraged, I know that something needs to be changed in my life, immediately, because I am being triggered in extremely negative ways–which is why after a particularly angry night a couple months ago, I broke off a relationship that was not healthy.  

 

Had I not embraced this instinct, however, and gotten down to the root of it, I wouldn’t have the insight to know that I was being triggered and that relationship needed to end.  Had I not let my rage become a part of me, and accept it and understand it and cope with it, I would not have been able to make such an informed, wise decision.

 

So, let your inner stuff come out.  Work your way through it. (Preferably with a qualified professional.) And live as a whole person, without hiding parts of you somewhere inside.  Let your instincts out, and be who you truly are–even if that is a vulgar, stubborn woman with a huge heart and too many tears.

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Muchness

There is a line in Lewis Carroll’s tales of Alice’s Adventures that reads: “‎You’re not the same as you were before,” he said. You were much more… muchier… you’ve lost your muchness.”

I’ve often liked that line, spoken to Alice about the ways that she has changed.  And though the point of Carroll’s writing was to make nonsense seem like sense and sense like nonsense, defying logic at every turn, I have always identified with the nonsense in a really lovely way.

I am Alice, in so many of these moments.  She is sort of tumbling through Wonderland in this state of shock.  Nothing makes sense.  Everything is literally and metaphorically topsy-turvy.  And what she believed to be true and correct and assumed by all, is not at all true and correct and assumed.

It is disorienting to discover that what you believed was sense is, instead, nonsense.

There are plenty of times in my life when I could relate to this disorientation.  There are many instances where the things I once believed turned out to be wrong or insufficient or nonsense.  And that isn’t an easy process to go through.  And it is a process made more difficult by those who are around you supporting the thing you once considered sense and standing in opposition.

In many ways I have gone through transformations over the course of my life.  And many of them are good changes, but some are or were not positive.  The trip that Alice takes doesn’t just seem to turn her into someone new, however.  It takes her back to who she was in her early years.  It takes her back to the space where nonsense is sense.  It takes her back into imagination and wonder and fun and passion and interest and joy.

And getting to that destination isn’t easy, but it is necessary.  If she doesn’t find her former self, the battle will be lost, and everything falls apart.

I think that this idea of a previous stage in Alice’s life as the best and most necessary stage is telling.  That she once found this strength within her, but now lacks it, expresses a lot.  It helps me see that there was a person I was, and a way that I was being, that might have been better or more necessary, even though it was an earlier and less “sensible” stage and state of being.  And for me, much of that ties to my imagination and my early years.

There is this space in our development that allows for all possibilities.  There is a time, especially in early childhood, when we are allowed to believe wholeheartedly that anything is possible and all the things are good and that we are safe and strong and able.  And that time doesn’t last long.  That time is cut short when we start to see the sense as more important than the nonsense.  We start to be told what we can and cannot accomplish.  We start to feel the weight of failure.  We start to play less and work more.  We lose touch with that fire that burned in our hearts when we believed that all the things were possible, and that nothing was beyond our reach.

I think this is the muchness that Alice is meant to rediscover—she needs to find that space where all the things are possible and nothing is beyond her reach.  She needs to believe in her strength, her will, her ability, and herself.   But not in her reason.  In her heart.

Several years back I was living in a less than stellar situation.  My cocaine addiction was being fed in the midst of a bad relationship.  I didn’t really like myself or the events that were happening or the ways that life was unfolding.  And I started reading and working through a book called Something More.  It had all these exercises within the pages that were designed to remind you who you are at your core.  Through the process of engaging with this book, I stopped wanting to engage in the life I was living.  I truly did start wanting something more.  And eventually my desire for more created a chasm between my partner and myself, and our relationship came to a violent end.  But that end was a catalyst for a new beginning.  A remaking based on a remembrance.  A memory of who I was and what I wanted in early childhood began to fuel the creation of this new way of being.

It was a much improved way of being, to be sure.  And it was a good way of being for some time.  But, today, I find myself back in a space where I want more, and I feel like I have lost a bit of myself.  I have disconnected from the desires of my heart once more, and fallen into the trap of being sensible.  I have lost my muchness.

And now the question that remains:  How do I find it again?

Alice falls down a hole and ends up in crazy town.  I don’t think I want to fall down any holes and end up in crazy townBut falling down holes and landing in nonsense isn’t practical for most of us.  We need to find another way back to our muchness.

The book Something More definitely helped me find my muchness in the past, but I don’t know that repeating that process will yield a better or different result.  And the path to nonsense isn’t one that many embark upon, so there are not a lot of guidebooks to set you on your way.

So, for lack of better options, I have gone back to what apparently served us well as children—I have been incessantly asking, “Why?”

I remember when my daughter went through this stage.  It was annoying and infuriating and beautiful.  I quickly discovered that if I gave her the most detailed scientific explanation possible, she stopped repeating the question.  For some time, I thought that I had quieted her questioning by confusing her.  But, after further consideration, I realized that she wasn’t quieted because she was confused, but because the answer was believable. It was the whole truth.  She knew the difference, as a toddler, between me pandering to her and me telling her the answer to her questions.  And some of my answers would, at a later date in my life and hers, change.  But she could tell when I was speaking what I believed to be true and when I was giving child-sized explanations that didn’t tell the whole story.

So, to get back to myself—to rediscover my core desires and beliefs and find my muchness—I am asking why until I get an answer that feels fully true and wholly believable.

That isn’t an easy process.  I feels a bit like falling down a hole and landing in crazy town.  And constantly questioning your reasons for beliefs and actions can, at first, feel like it is breaking you in pieces.  It feels like you don’t and can’t trust yourself.  It feels like judgment, if you come from a background or current environment that tends to be judgmental.  And it can be really uncomfortable.

But when you keep questioning—when you continue to dig until you get to what feels like the true and full answer to the “why”—you begin to feel stronger and better and more confident in what you believe and in how you choose to act.  It takes time.  Lots of time.  And it is worth every moment of that time.  Because it is really easy to become a believer of the easy answer and to follow the path of collective “sense”, but that collective and simplistic way of approaching the world may be (as it was for me) in conflict with your deepest and truest desire.

My nonsense is better than the world’s sense.

The creative, empathic, passionate, adventurous, strong woman that I am often clashes with what might be considered common sense.  When I follow my heart I end up moving 2000 miles to a new city with no job, no home, and no acceptance letter to the school I hope to attend.  When I follow my heart I end up in the ghetto surrounded by a strange mix of chaos and community.  When I follow my heart I break up with great people to pursue a connection more passionate and powerful than the perceived “Mr. Right” offers.  When I follow my heart my business card reads “Author” and “Artist”, not M.Div.

When I follow my heart I exhibit all sorts of “nonsense”.  I anger people.  I frustrate people.  But I connect to me, and to my understanding and my desire and my core belief, in amazing ways.

I find my muchness.  I get muchier.  I find me.

And we can debate for a millennium the ways that who I am may or may not be “wrong” or “bad” or “immoral”.  I don’t really care to do that, but I always invite civil discussion and dialogue, so I will do so if it seems productive.  But that debate won’t likely end with me changing my view, because the view is formed by the constant questioning and the finding of my muchness.  I’m not going to give that up easily or quickly. I’m going to hold on to that muchness and seek to always follow my heart.

And that might look like nonsense.

I’m totally happy with it looking like nonsense to others, if it feels like the deepest truth to me.  And the philosophical and theological definitions of truth don’t need to be addressed when I look to my muchness.  Because no matter what moral or philosophical dilemma I am faced with, I will still look to my heart, my understanding, my experience, and my study to find the truest and most complete answer.  That might not be the answer you prefer, but I am not made unique in order to become mundanely accepting of someone else’s views.

I am made for my muchness.  I am made to live in it and with it and through it.   I am made to use it to create a better world, to offer new ideas, to live with gusto, and to turn the world on its head and make you feel like you fell down a hole into crazy town, so that you too can investigate, pursue, and live out your own muchness.

It will look different for each of us. Because the truest and most complete answer to all of the “why’s” won’t always align.  We are different people, with different knowledge and experience, and different hearts.  But that doesn’t mean we cannot live together in harmony.  We can do so, if we simply respect and honor the muchness of others—their opinions and beliefs and understandings and experiences and hearts.

I got into an argument with my sister the other day.  There was voice raising and abrupt hanging up of phones involved.  It wasn’t pretty.

Afterward, I continued to ask “why”.  Because her heart says something that my heart cannot.  And my heart says something that hers cannot.  This is true because we are different people, with different experiences and understanding.  But it didn’t break our relationship.  In fact, it might grow all the stronger after the lengthy text messages following the argument that worked to express love and commitments to listen to one another’s needs more fully and respectfully.  But when I sought out the why, I could see her perspective clearly and, simultaneously, know that I am firmly rooted in my perspective for really important reasons.  And while my perspective feels like nonsense to her, it is sense for me.

So, I am holding on to my nonsensical muchness, with the confidence that I will continue to investigate what feels most true and whole, and with the knowledge that my views make others feel, at times, like they fell down a hole into crazy town.

I can accept that.  And I can try to lower them into crazy town gently and with kindness and compassion.  But I can’t give up my muchness.  It takes such work to find it and hold it.  Alice couldn’t hold her heart and her imagination in high regard.  She lost her muchness.  And so have I, but I am regaining it.

I am letting the topsy-turvy feel like home.  I am allowing my own heart to speak.  I am filling life with what I love.  I am returning to the strength within, letting my imagination run wild, embracing the way that I have been fashioned, loving who I am, and continuing to seek out the most complete answer to the question, “Why?”.

I am opening myself to the nonsense, and refusing to be confined by the restraints of the status quo.

I am becoming muchier.  I am finding my heart.  I am gaining something more.

I am embracing my muchness.