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.

 

 

Shifting

I was talking with my dad yesterday, and our conversation turned toward the topic of change.  Particularly, we were talking about what it takes to change your mind—to move toward a new idea or concept and abandon your previous thinking.  And that discussion led to some thought about how my own progression and development of thought has come about.

Admittedly, I have had experience and opportunities to gain knowledge that others have not.  That knowledge and experience have definitely been part of my transition from one school of thought to another.  But I sometimes feel that there is something more leading my shift in ideas.  And I began to consider what that might be.

At times, I think that my childhood traumas might have had an unintended consequence of pushing me toward something new.  The stark difference between what I was told and what I was experiencing motivated me to look for something that seemed more honest and authentic.  And the shame and struggle of being different and feeling tainted or marked in some way caused me to seek out a framework that didn’t make me out to be some evil, sinful thing, awaiting a horrible hell where I would burn in eternal fires.  (Mind you, I was feeling that way because of what was being done to me, not because of anything I had chosen to do.)

I bore the weight of many things, and I didn’t even remember some of the things until college.  I was always sort of unaligned and a bit mistrusting and a tad weird, but my first year of college was the start of the journey toward full-blown PTSD crazy.  Crazy isn’t a diagnosis here, but more of a title for how others began to view me.  Because symptoms of rage and nightmares and flashbacks and depression and risk-taking behaviors seem like crazy to the untrained eye—and also, it would seem, to a number of professionals. (My mistrust of rural doctors is founded upon the continued failure of rural doctors—especially those of the psychiatric persuasion.)  And when you are “acting crazy” you start to feel even more crazy, because you don’t really want to act out in those ways, but there is a compulsion within you that is far stronger than any reason you might try to hold onto. There isn’t really a way for the brain to rationalize away trauma, no matter how hard you try.  And, for some, the harder they try, the more dissociative their condition becomes—moving toward dissociative identity disorder, which is sort of the peak of dissociative brain activity.

Luckily, my symptoms hovered in the PTSD realm.  And I was also able to compartmentalize well in later years, and to push my trauma into particular and less “crazy” behaviors, like risky sex and smoking and manipulation and petty theft.  While those things weren’t great for me, they helped me keep the world blind to most of the symptoms I experienced, and kept me on a more even plane, temporarily.

But, I am getting into tangent territory.  And the point here wasn’t my struggle with the symptoms that arose from my childhood, but with change and shifting ideas.

I had symptoms that pushed me out into the world.  I moved from city to town to city to hilltop commune to city, and I experienced life in ways that many have not.  I saw poverty and abuse and homelessness and sex work and violence and mental illness and struggle of many kinds.  And I saw them up close and personal, not through huffpost articles, but on the actual street and in my real life.  You can’t live with and in those spaces without changing the way you think, because the truth of those things is forced upon you, and no amount of rationalizing or pontificating will make that truth go away.

But when you come back to “civilized” society after living off of trash can food and free clinics and using your body as capital, somehow the “civilized” people want you to stop believing in the truths that were evident in that other portion of your life and experience.  They don’t want to hear that the poor are made so by their action or inaction.  They don’t want to know that abortions happen because of careful, thoughtful consideration by intelligent and capable women.  They don’t want to believe that gay people are such from birth.  And no matter how many stories of civilized people with struggles I would tell, there were those who refused to believe what I knew to be true—that love lives in those people and in the midst of those challenges, and that they aren’t evil.

I remember the time when I was still attached to the thinking of my family and my hometown and the people within its boundaries.  I believed in the badness of sex and drugs and curse words and poverty and moral failure of many kinds.  I spoke out against abortion and thought homeless people needed to get jobs and believed that I had the right to judge others based on my superior attention to religious law.  But I was wrong.  I was very, extremely, ludicrously wrong.

I am fine with people being wrong due to their limited experience and understanding of a thing.  I was that person.  The challenge is the people who will fight to the death over their belief, which can be easily refuted with more experience and understanding.

Information is everywhere these days.  You don’t have to look long or look far to grasp a greater understanding of things.  But there are still many from my history or in particular circles who demand that their limited view is the correct view.  They believe they have the right to judge others based on their superior attention to religious law, even when I can tell them clearly and concisely how their view of the law is incorrect.  The problem, in their eyes, is the failure of my seminary training, not their understanding.  And they will continue to insist upon the truth of something that is easily disproved.

Some might think that I am the same way, because I have things that I hold to and will not deny credence or accept variance.  But the difference here is that I have researched and studied those things, and have not yet been offered an alternative proof.  I’m not closed off and refusing to accept anything.  I’m very open, or I wouldn’t be at the place I am today in my thought.

I started the shift, in some ways, when I was very young.  It didn’t make sense that god is love but god didn’t rescue me from illness and abuse.  I didn’t want to be in the place where I was suffering that illness and abuse.  I wanted to get away.  And this may have fueled my running, but it wasn’t the reason I left the ideas of my rural, religious, right-wing-esque home.  I left those ideas because they were based on false assumptions and not on the truth.  And when I use the term truth here, I don’t mean my opinions, but things that I have tested and found to be based in fact and supported by the stories and anecdotal evidences I have encountered.

As I moved farther from the religious teachings, and closer to the people living out a different life and expressing other ideas, I came to find that I loved learning.  I loved learning so much that I decided to obtain an undergraduate degree and two graduate degrees.  And the more I learned, the more I discovered that those closely held ideas in my hometown were not facts.  And the more I expressed facts, instead of those closely held ideas, the more I was labeled and challenged and discounted by people in that hometown.

Yesterday, when talking with my dad, I mentioned that with every degree and every new experience, I get farther in my thinking than the previous group I shared life with.  My experience in Chicago and in study of social justice moved my thinking slightly “left” of that which I believed when I was in Phoenix and studying theology.  My experience in Phoenix and in study of theology moved my thinking slightly left of that which I believed when I was in Sioux Center and studying philosophy.  And my experience in Sioux Center and in study of philosophy moved me slightly left of that which I believed in Kansas City and Rock Rapids and Sheldon and some remote area in Oklahoma’s red hills and in studying life’s hard knocks.  So, as we dissect the course of my life, we get back to small town high school days … and the people who were in the seat next to me in high school think I am so liberal that I am going to a horrible hell where I will burn in eternal fires.

And it matters not that I can put forth an argument against a literal hell so good that I got an A+ on the paper where I did put it forth while in seminary.  That first community is still filled with people who view me as the crazy, liberal, leftist evil that belongs in hell fires.

I struggle to understand people who would deny the facts, and ignore every study, and refuse to accept any anecdotal evidence, and not listen to the stories of others, but hold fast to what has been proven untrue.

I’m not that type of person.  I love change.  I love learning.  I love knowing more and being more informed and having more ideas.  I love testing theories and researching topics and gathering data.  I love the moment when you say, “Oh”, because you have just discovered that you were wrong.  And I love the moment when you say, “Aha”, because you have just discovered that you were correct.

So, I guess the only direction that I can go as I seek the close of this post is toward encouragement.  I encourage everyone reading this to open up to an idea.  Just start with one.  You don’t need to live on the street and be an addict and get divorced and explore your own sexuality and go to seminary and study philosophy all at once.  And you don’t need to start with the idea you hold most dear.  But start with something.  Pick one topic and research it and talk to people affected and gather data and take information from a variety of sources, and see if you feel differently at the end of that process than you did at the beginning.  You can’t manage this type of study, however, if you cannot come to it with the understanding that you might be wrong.

All of the shifts in my thinking required this one thing:  the willingness to be wrong.

I had to accept that I might be wrong about what is evil and what is good.  I had to accept that I might be wrong about what causes poverty.  I had to accept that I might be wrong about racial injustice.  I had to accept that I might be wrong about personhood from conception.  I had to accept that I might be wrong about the morality and personality of sex workers.  I had to accept that I might be an addict.  I had to accept that I spent years fighting battles that I now am ashamed to have fought.  I had to accept that I don’t know much at all.  I had to accept that I don’t have all the answers.  I had to accept that my concept of the divine may have been very wrong.  I had to let myself be incorrect and let myself learn from others.

I might be a stubborn and belligerent gal, but I have never not wanted to learn.  And this openness to ideas has caused shift after shift after shift.  And those are good.  Those are well researched, touched by truth, seeking the divine, open to any outcome shifts.  They weren’t all easy shifts to make.

It wasn’t easy accepting that the creation story or the story of Jonah and the whale aren’t literal.  It wasn’t easy accepting that the spirit of the law is more important than the letter of the law.  It wasn’t easy to accept that a fetus is not the same as a live birth.  It wasn’t easy to accept that I have white privilege.  It wasn’t easy to accept that disability doesn’t devalue a person or their life.  It wasn’t easy to accept that gender is fluid.  But I would rather work toward accepting something with difficulty than work toward demanding a lie be accepted as truth.

And there is a chance that I am wrong about all the things I now believe.  There may be new information that comes to light, or new experience that shapes my ideas, and I may be proved wrong.

Then I will need to shift again.

In many ways change is life and life is change.  I believe that in order to live fully, I need to explore in ways that allow for change to happen.  This includes the humility of accepting the times when I get things wrong.  And I get them wrong plenty of times, but I seek to leave my ego at the door when I engage in study or conversation, so that I can keep learning from others.  And as I learn, I change.  But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

As I change and shift, I become a better person.  Contest that all you want, I won’t retract that statement.  I may not become what others wish I were—I may not fit their concept of “better”.  But I am better.  I am more knowledgeable and more open and more kind and more considerate and more accepting than I have ever been.  And one day soon, as I learn and shift and learn and shift, I will be even more so.  Not because I can shoot down other people’s ideas with fabulous amounts of sarcasm and snark, but because I can listen and learn at every moment and in every stage.

When my mother started to slip toward dementia, she went through some periods of regression.  Some of the comments she made were very racist.  But I knew that wasn’t my mom today coming out in the moment, but it was my mother in her youth, before she made the shift from the racism of her family members and the challenges of race in Chicago during her teens.  I was watching her shift in reverse, going from the loving and caring woman she became back to the girl she once was.  Those early ideas were so offensive.  And my mom was a much better person at 55 than at 15.  If I suffer the same disease she suffered, I might someday make an anti-transgendered comment, or say something about poor people needing to work harder.  But I won’t mean it.  Because I have evolved past that point.  I’ve become more open and more loving and more caring, just like my mom did.

And I have rocketed past my mom’s development, and the shifting of some others, but I also come behind those who have flown to the front of the pack, leading me into a new age of thought and action and understanding.  I love knowing that there are others pioneering, and that I am in good company as I continue to learn and to change.

Evolving, shifting, and changing should be seen as good.  None of us should be stuck in the same rut for 80 years and then die.  Not just because I see transformation as positive, but because I believe that transformation and growth are at the heart of being human.  We have one of the longest periods of development of any creature on earth.  We change slowly.  We grow slowly. We reach our pinnacle at a very late age.  And I don’t think that is accidental.  I think we were meant to keep changing in order to keep evolving into a better form.  We are designed to move forward.  We are made for shifting.

I work on creating new neural pathways and reintegrating parts of my brain all of the time.  Old humans can learn new tricks.  We are supposed to do so.  And the more we work at learning, the healthier our brains remain as we age.  Learning, which our brain needs, always begets change.  It is a natural progression.  And maybe your progression won’t lead you as far “left” as mine has led me.  But don’t be afraid to learn and don’t be afraid to change.

Evolve.  Become better.  Shift.

Backward

The last few days I haven’t been able to keep control of my letters.  They keep switching up and making the words I mean to write a jumbled mess.  And this is not figurative in any way.  I’m seriously dyslexic of late.

It isn’t a major issue, since we have these lovely computer checks of our spelling and grammar these days, and the only thing I end up writing with my actual hand and a pen is notes from my online nutrition course, so I should be able to decipher what I meant to write.  But, even without severe consequence, I get annoyed with this trading of letters and destroying of words.

It isn’t that I’m a perfectionist…

Just kidding, I’m totally a perfectionist.

And that hasn’t always served me well in life.  There are many times where I put too much effort and too much stress into a project of some sort, because I had to achieve my own standard of perfection.  And my standard has always been high.

I don’t think I came to be such a perfectionist by accident.  It has been shown that there is a correlation between perfectionism and trauma.  And I grew up with a mother who didn’t allow anyone to settle for less than what she deemed perfect.  Though I constantly disappointed her hopes of perfection, I still adopted some of her desire for all the things to line up perfectly and look neat and clean and good.

I didn’t realize that I was dyslexic until adulthood.  For some reason, even though things were constantly being reversed in my early education, nobody ever diagnosed me with a learning disability.  In adulthood I would also be given the diagnosis of ADHD, which often travels in tandem with dyslexia.  Both have been linked to low DHA and EPA, the omega 3’s from fish, in utero.  So, basically, my mom wasn’t perfect, because she clearly missed out on oily fish while my cells were multiplying and differentiating and doing all the scientific shit that cells do.

Because I wasn’t formally diagnosed with these maladies in childhood, I felt stupid a lot.  I couldn’t meet the standards of perfection.  I kept messing up in the same ways and living in the same mistakes.  I couldn’t pay attention, my desk was a mess, I was terrible at penmanship and spelling, and I kept drawing “b” and “d” either identically, or replacing one with the other.  I was flawed.   I couldn’t get it right.

And doing things “right” was of high importance in our household.  Or at least making them look “right”.

Perfectionism didn’t just apply to my handwriting.  I needed to have perfect hair and perfect clothes and look like a perfect daughter.  But I wasn’t a perfect daughter, so lying about my imperfections became commonplace.  I was always the daughter bouncing around when she should be still.  I was always the daughter who spoke when she was expected to stay silent.  I was always the daughter who would leave when told to stay and stay when asked to leave.  I was belligerent and defiant and not at all the kind of daughter that my mom wanted.  And, until my sister came along, I might have believed that daughters didn’t come in a perfect model.  She was compliant and accommodating and capable of making my mother happy.  I wasn’t.  And I used to envy or despise my sister, depending on the moment, for her ability to be the child that my mother had wished I was.  But I eventually let that go, because it had nothing to do with my sister and everything to do with my mother, and my relationship with her.

I couldn’t be perfect, but I tried, until not living up to the challenge for years and years finally made me give up.  And I gave up in gigantic ways.

My house was a disaster area, and my husband was an asshole, and I was a cursing, loud, obnoxious, addicted, defiant mess.  And it was fabulous.

I became the exact opposite of what my mother wanted me to be, and I stayed that way for some time.

Eventually, I came to see that some of my behavior wasn’t serving me well, so I started to travel from my backward ways and get closer to the ideal daughter.  But, after travelling so far from that ideal, you really don’t come back.  Your experience becomes a part of you. Whether you want it to or not, your history is always a part of your story.  So, I formed my own ideal.  And I started to strive for that ideal instead.

I accepted that I would never be the daughter my mom wished for, but I could be the best possible me imagined.  Right?

Wrong.

I’m an idealist at heart, but pragmatic overall. However, I formed an ideal that I couldn’t live up to.  And I think that all of us do this, on some level.  We imagine a self, and spend so much time and energy living into that perceived self that nothing else matters, and then we cannot meet the standards imagined.  We fail ourselves—not just our mothers.

I didn’t learn the lesson quickly, and spent years struggling with myself, but I have finally seen that I was designed to be backward.  Not in the sense that the divine wished dyslexia upon me, but in the sense that we are all designed to be different from what we expect of ourselves.

I fought to become what I envisioned a good woman to be.  And that vision was based upon what I knew from my history, and upon what I imagined my mother wanted, and upon what I deemed culturally appropriate.  But I am no more culturally appropriate than I am able to keep my letters in the correct order while I write.

So, when I did learn the lesson, and I did discover who and what and why I am, I learned that I am not now, and not ever, going to fit into an imagined ideal me.  That isn’t how development works.

When we are babies, we don’t make a list of things we want to accomplish before we begin to explore the world and start to meet milestones.  We never say, “Hmmm…I think walking might be cool.”  We just engage with our environment in such a way that we eventually discover that walking gets us to places we want to go.  And somehow we have forgotten, by and large, that development happens as exploration happens, and that no amount of wishing for a baby to walk gets them walking, but they do so when it serves them well.

It sounds a bit selfish, but it really isn’t.  Being your best self doesn’t mean adhering to an ideal that constantly lives just outside your grasp, but accepting who you are and what you need in the moment. And while you might imagine that as self-serving, in truth, when you care well for yourself you are set free to care well for others, instead of putting all your energy toward meeting the unachievable ideal.

There are lots of people who still think I live life backward.  They comment about how I should get a job or get more exercise or try this or that home remedy.  They tell me they worry about my choices, because I like both men and women, because I have sex while unmarried, because I am pro-choice, because I live in a ghettoized neighborhood, because I date outside my race, because I am not a biblical literalist …

The list goes on forever.

But the best thing that has happened for me in a very long time is that I stopped caring what those people want Ideal Christy to be like.  I no longer care what my Ideal Christy was.  I have learned to simply live within the Christy that I am.  I accept my beliefs.  I offer gratitude.  I increase my awareness.  I educate myself, and I transform what I can based on new information.  I let go of what I cannot change.  I release expectations and, instead, hold on to who I am at the core—deep in my heart, or my gut.

I don’t need to be perfect.  I just need to be who I am, in the most authentic way possible.

There are many ways that perfectionism still sneaks into my daily life, including my frustration over the order of my written characters, but even that tendency toward perfectionism can be accepted and released in my newfound, mindful approach to living.  And there are still many ways that others view me as failing or a failure that hurt my heart, but those too can be felt and then released.

I spent so much of my life trying to be the perfect daughter, the perfect wife or girlfriend, the perfect mother, the perfect student, the perfect employee.  And all of that was not waste, but much of it was unhelpful.  I don’t need to fit the mold for any perfect ideal.  There is no longer an ideal self.  There is only me, simply being.

And I think that being is better than perfection, without a doubt.

I do waste energy, from time to time, on the things that others desire for me to be.  But, for the most part, I have learned to break free from expectations and to accept myself as I am.  Once the keeping of lists stopped and the toddler-like exploration of self and environment began, it was difficult to revert to the perfectionist striving.  Because exploring self and life is so much more rewarding.  It offers wonder and surprise and enlightenment and new life.  And that is much better than the struggle that perfectionism offers.

I’m becoming proud of the process of becoming.  I’m accepting that I may be any number of things, and some of those things might align with the ideals of others, but others will not.  But those ideals aren’t my goal anymore.  Mindful living is my goal.  And mindful living always offers me good things, and never disappoints.

I understand that this way of being will be considered backward for some.  But those people are probably still striving for a perfectionist ideal that will never be reached.  And I don’t need to care that they see my way of exploring the world and the self and the environment and the world as not “right” in its approach to living.

If loving me is wrong, I don’t want to be right!

Annoyances like transposed letters still frustrate me at moments, but I’m learning to accept even that as a part of who I am.  And I’m learning to accept that I am good, just as I am.  I am “right”, because I am being true to myself and my experience.  I am being true to my heart and my gut.  I am letting me be enough.  I am allowing myself the space to fall and to rise and to be, without judgments.  And something that offers that much love and grace and compassion toward the self, instead of the usual berating and judging of perfectionism, cannot be wrong.

So, since today is not a class day, filled with strangely spelled notes, I will spend it doing that which makes me be, without perfectionist ideals.  Maybe I will do some yoga, or a meditation.  Maybe I will color mandalas, or work on some art pieces, or finally attempt some sewing, or plant some stuff, or take a bath.  And others can think of those things as selfish, if they want.  But I see them for what they are: practices that accept who I am and where I am, practices that lead me to my best self, and practices that never ask me to strive for perfection.

And you might think that such things couldn’t possibly be added to your day, because you are too busy.  But you would be wrong. Because practicing mindfulness strips away the busy, and leaves you with what is most important—it always leaves you with the best possible you.

End your striving.  Stop trying to be perfect.  Let your heart speak to you, and then speak that to others.  Don’t pretend you are something you are not to please your mother (or anyone else, for that matter). Look inward. Be backward.

I promise you won’t be disappointed.

Wealth

I won $25 in the form of an Amazon gift code.  I feel rich.

Just kidding.  I am still super poor, but I wanted to make the point here that most people could lose $25 and not be terribly upset by the loss, while for me it feels like frigging Christmas wrapped in the lottery to gain $25.

Wealth is both relative and not relative.  I have far more than someone living in a hut in the jungle in South America, perhaps, monetarily speaking.  But I also have far less than most people living in North America, monetarily speaking.  So that makes it relative in nature.  But there are really easily applied formulas for figuring out what it costs to live in a particular place, and being from North America, and having no income, I rest way down at the very bottom of the poverty scale.  There isn’t anything relative about that.  I can’t be considered wealthy based on the conditions in which I live. And, frankly, I can’t afford to move to a hut in South America either, so I am stuck within those conditions, and my situation would likely not change were I to live elsewhere in the United States. (Canada is a whole other, and I dare say better, story than here. But I don’t think they give you a visa to utilize better social programs.  They probably prefer people emigrate with useful skills, not disability status.)

So, if we understand that I am stuck where I am physically and financially, we can also understand that I don’t have monetary wealth.  And that presents challenges that I often never considered.

There was a commercial on today for ADT security service that said something along the lines of “even in your nice neighborhood”.  And I was taken aback as a person whose neighborhood would rarely, if ever, be considered nice.  Are they specifically marketing to people in “nice” neighborhoods?  What defines nice?  Who thinks that bad things can’t happen in their neighborhood, even if it fits the criteria set forth for one that is nice?  And aren’t there enough neighborhoods that are not meeting the nice criteria for ADT to make plenty of money?  I know my building has an alarm system on every floor, even though there are no less than four deadbolts between the street and my apartment from any entrance. And it began to sink in that what nice means is a neighborhood with wealth.

Wealth, with regard to neighborhood safety, is also relative and not relative.  There are far more shootings in the south side and west side neighborhoods of Chicago than in other areas, and these neighborhoods are also those that have the most poor households. (We will ignore for the moment that they also have the most people of color—or, rather, are composed almost solely of people of color.) It would seem that money equates with safety.  But when we look closer, and assess types of crime, there are far fewer home invasions in my area on the west side than in wealthier areas.  Nobody wants my not techie, super-old, very cheap electronics, or my Salvation Army furniture.  I’m relatively safe, in that regard.  I’m also relatively safe because my block is filled with families who own their homes and take pride in being good, Christian people, so they either don’t participate in criminal activity, or do so quietly and without drama and violence.  (The neighbor lady sits out back and smokes weed every nice evening, for instance, but she isn’t dealing in heroin and guns.)  So, being impoverished doesn’t necessarily mean you are unsafe, in a relative sense.  But, there is also the issue of extreme poverty—the kind that leads to homelessness, prostitution, hunger, and the like.  This poverty makes you very unsafe.  Have you ever wondered why many homeless sleep in public parks during the day?  It is because sleeping alone in the dark corners of the city is very dangerous, especially for women or children.  The elements are dangerous.  The alternate economies, like selling drugs or your body, are dangerous.  There is no safety in extreme poverty.  This is not relative.  It is simply the truth.

And lately I sit on the precipice of this extreme sort of poverty.

I’ve learned to live in the burden of the relative poverty and the relative safety without too much difficulty.  There were a few years between an innocent youth and aware adult that included sex and drugs and homelessness, and that I do not regret, because it taught me the truth.  It made me know, beyond any uncertainty, that extreme poverty should never be, because you cannot be in it without being in constant danger.  I was in constant danger during those years.  Those years broke me, and started the process of rebuilding me anew.

What I lived then, I never wanted another human being to experience.  I never wanted another human being to choose sex with a stranger over possibly freezing to death in the car.  I never wanted another human being to steal tampons or soap from Walmart, because there wasn’t another way to get them.  I never wanted another human being to learn the schedule upon which the McDonald’s dumpster received uneaten burgers from the previous shift, still slightly warm and wrapped in their lovely papers inside that plastic garbage bag, and ready for consumption.  I never wanted another human being to sleep with an aerosol hairspray and a lighter at the ready, to create an instant blow torch to the face of any who might attack in the night.  Nobody should ever live that way.

I moved from the extreme poverty to the relative poverty category when I had a child.  Then you got all the wealth–$361 of wealth every month!  It was like a heaven.  A heaven where you had to decide between socks and diapers, or medicine and transportation, or tampons and toilet paper.  A heaven where I would unroll all the toilet paper from the church bathroom stall into my purse every Sunday.  A heaven where my daughter missed the 1st grade class trip because I couldn’t come up with $6.  A heaven where I cried myself to sleep at midnight and then got up at five in the morning to do my own homework before I had to wake my daughter for school.

That heaven, sadly, is gone.  I’m no longer eligible for more student loans, and I haven’t qualified for TANF since my daughter was five, and while I do get food stamps and a housing voucher, I don’t get any other assistance.  My light bill and my gas bill and my phone bill and my medications not covered by insurance and my clothes and my toilet paper and a haircut and soap and laundry detergent and whatever else I need, that comes from nowhere.  I’ve maxed out my credit cards and borrowed all that I was able from family, and now there is nothing.  Now it is over.  Now I stare at that space between here and sleeping with aerosol and lighters, and I see it narrowing, and I am afraid.  Can I survive on the street now?  No.  I wouldn’t make it a week out in the elements.  Would it come to that?  I don’t know.

What I do know is that nobody on this planet, and certainly nobody in the United States, should see $25 as wealth when others wouldn’t notice if it went missing.

When I was younger, I had these friends who would take checks out of their mom’s checkbook and forge her signature and go out to eat and such.  They would take my relative poverty butt along for the ride.  I don’t think their mom ever noticed that they were essentially stealing her money, or she, at least, didn’t care and simply allowed them to continue the practice.  Either way, it was a huge departure from the way I lived.  I could not imagine a world where every penny was accounted for in the budget weeks before any income was expected.  I could not imagine a world where money could just leave your bank account without you freaking the fuck out and tracking down the evil person who took it.  I could not imagine wealth.

I still can’t.

I have friends who I would consider wealthy, and relatives that I would consider wealthy, so I see wealth and have been close to wealth, but my own mind doesn’t know wealth.  It only knows scarcity.  And when you only know scarcity, it is extremely difficult to comprehend or imagine wealth.

I do strange things out of scarcity and the fear of scarcity.  I save bottles of product that are clearly empty, just in case I can somehow get more out, by pressing on the pump a thousand times, or turning it upside down and banging it on a hard surface, or by adding some water to dilute the product and potentially get at least partial benefit from the watery substance that is left.  I keep clothes with holes and things that don’t fit, just in case there is never a way to replace what is in my closet with something else.  I imagine everything needs to be saved and kept, albeit neatly, in the closet.  I accept things from others that I would never choose for myself.  I always take home leftovers, even if I didn’t like the food the first time and know I won’t eat them.  It just seems like I always need to be prepared for a period where I am destitute.  That day seems moments away.  Always.

The stress on my body and mind from believing in this destitute day and my needed readiness must be outrageous.  It is no wonder that people in poverty have shorter life spans.  Stress alone is killing us, never mind exposure or illness or starvation or infection or assault.

I should feel wealth, and not scarcity.  We all should feel wealth and not scarcity.

The other day on the bus I recognized a voice.  It was a man I had spent some time talking with on the bus a year or so ago.  I remembered this interaction vividly, because he was a pianist and a piano teacher, and also homeless.  My mother was a piano teacher and a pianist, so we connected on that topic and he began telling me all sorts of stories about his days as a professional musician.  He traveled to places exotic and new and he performed in all sorts of famous or glamorous or beautiful venues, but people gawked and made scowling faces as I spoke with him about his wealth of experience, because it was obvious that he now had no monetary wealth to speak of.  I heard him telling a woman next to him that he was a piano teacher, and immediately was taken back to the memory of him and our lovely conversation.  I looked over, and I hardly recognized him.  He had the same glasses and the same torn pants, he still had a jacket too light for the weather and curly blonde/gray hair sticking out in all directions, but he had lost maybe 70 pounds and he looked gaunt and ashen about the face, instead of plump and rosy as he had been the day I first met him.  Tears formed in the corners of my eyes and I looked away, putting on my headphones and immersing myself in something other than the empty feeling in my gut.  He had slipped down the slope into extreme poverty.  He is dying.  Slowly, but with certainty, he is dying.  And he reminded me once more of my mother, and the frailty she showed as her body slipped into death.  All the wealth this man possessed was leaving him.  But it should not have been.  That history, that life, that wealth of experience should have been valued and respected and honored.  It wasn’t, because he was poor and homeless.

I deserve to feel my own wealth, for once.  I should be allowed to feel the wealth of knowledge and intellect I possess, and the giftedness of an artist and a writer and a poet, and the depth and the breadth of a life lived with fire and passion and play and purpose.  I rarely feel that wealth.  I never feel that wealth without doing so deliberately.  Because the poverty pushes out all else.  The monetary scarcity—the lack of financial resources—overwhelms any other wealth that we might possess, and leaves us bathed in insecurities and unable to promote our strength.  It strips us of the goodness and leaves us only the worries of never having—never being—enough.

So, today I won $25.  And all of this came out of that little Amazon gift card.  All of this was the result of that one moment, when I declared that I am rich, even when I know that I am clinging to relative poverty with every cell in my body right now.  Even though I know it is a lie.  Even though I believe in scarcity, when I wish beyond all telling that I could trust in abundance.  I don’t.  I don’t know abundance anymore.  Maybe I never did.  And maybe I will go the way of my pianist friend, slowly losing life to homelessness and hunger once more, or maybe I will go the way of others, and win the lottery or write a best-seller or start a business and have millions to spend.  But, somehow, I think that I might always be stuck in this pattern of thinking, no matter which way I go.  Because being poor has become a part of me, and fighting to survive is the only fight I know, and scarcity has been my reality for so long that I don’t know that I could ever believe that it won’t be stripped from me, and that my true, scarce self will be exposed for all to see.

I find that really sad and terrible.  And I do not have a beautiful expression with which to leave you, and a happy ending to this post.  Because this is me thinking aloud and finding the truth in my own post, not me solving the problem to make you feel better.  And, maybe you are a person who would benefit from sitting in this space with me, and acknowledging that the solution isn’t evident.  Maybe sitting in my scarcity will help you see your own abundance, or maybe sitting in my scarcity will give you comfort that you are not the only one, or maybe sitting in my scarcity will inspire you to become passionate about sharing abundance and honoring wealth not monetary in nature.  I don’t know.

All I can say for certain right now is that I am really excited to spend my $25.  Now, should I buy socks or medicine?