Well…

I am not able to do an exhaustive inventory of everything anyone has ever said about fear. Humans have been preoccupied with fear since the very beginning of our evolution. The instinct to live and to be alive is interwoven with the instinct to be afraid of things that might hurt us. This instinct is at the very core of our existence as animals.

In my own life, I have to recognize fear as a driver in my experience and perception. I do not want to be scared. I don’t want to think about bad things happening. I do not want to feel sad and angry about things that do not actually exist. I want to be able to feel sad and angry about the fear-producing things that actually are happening – if not to me directly then to other people, and to the planet, and thus to me indirectly – in ways that don’t shut me down and make me want to go to bed or create so much panicked grief that I am not able to function well. I want to be able to stay grounded and centered in myself as a strong and capable person. I want to be able to connect with other people, and to try to do my work as a person whose values are hinged on holding in reverence the reality of suffering in the world and a long-standing commitment to do what is reasonably within my capacity to lessen the lot of suffering and to support healing. 

If I am incapacitated by and exhausted by and distracted by fear, I can’t do those things. 

There is a lot that I am not afraid of. I spent the night on the top of a mountain in a thunderstorm. I walk down dark and unfamiliar streets alone. I know, in my rational mind, that I need to practice acceptance around the bigger things that I am afraid of – climate crisis, the disappearance of wildlife, my own uncertain future. However, I have fear. I feel it in my body, low level and then rising toward a horrified grief. 

As I write this, I am thinking about the possibility that a part of me that has been conspicuously quiet the past few years is all but howling with the recognition that the things I most feared as a child are all coming true. War. The death of animals. Forests on fire. 

Adults are not supposed to be scared about those things. 

Inside, I feel like a little kid watching the world end. 

I have been alive long enough to see that things are changing, and changing fast. 

I don’t know what will happen. Everything that I used to think I could rely upon as being a stable, likely reality has gone all shaky. 

Things that used to exist do not exist anymore. Forests become parking lots. Some places will be underwater in my lifetime. 

That scares me. 

It is good that it scares me.

It should scare me! 

Nonetheless, I don’t want to live with fear. Rather, I don’t want to live with fear in the way that I have been. I have to change my relationship with fear, change how it registers in my body and mind, change the way I relate fear with love.

The other side of fear is love. If I love, then I become scared that what I love will be harmed or lost. It is impossible to love that way, because then it becomes about fear, and the feelings of love become a tightening chest, a heaviness in the throat, slight scrambling of the thoughts. 

That changes what I think about, changes how I see the world and what might happen, changes how I *feel* in my life.

July 15

I was driving through town, and noticing that I felt lonely, anxious. I didn’t used to feel lonely. Interesting to be lonely again. My best friend is far away, and I have to reckon with this empty space that has been left in my days these past few months, and especially over the past several weeks, this being alone. It is probably good to know that something in the fiber of the friendship is woven with what certainly feel like unhealthy attachments, the pang of absence and worry that my friend will forget me, the sensations of being left behind. I also recognize that these things enter into my experience from a part of me that is still very much healing, and that it is perfectly natural and healthy for there to be ebbs and flows in friendship and the things we give our attention to. I know, in fact, that what I ought to be doing during this time, perhaps by design, is tending to my own affairs – projects and the forging of opportunities. Within this absence from my friend, there is the opportunity for reconnection with myself, and for reconciliation of the parts of me that are still wounded from attachments and difficulties with attachment. 

I was alone for a long time. 

I am alone now. 

As I was driving in the rain, I came up to a stop light and saw a man who I know as Jethro. That is his street name. I know his real name, too, but I only remember his street name. He is an old man who looks like a boy, a trouble-making, happy, round face boy, whose hair was blond when he was young, before the army and the alcohol and the life and death of it all got ahold of him. It’s easy to imagine his as happy as child, but I know that his life was probably brutal, as so many lives are. Still, he has a smiling face. Once, when he was crying at the church, drunk and crying, mourning the death of his lady, I sat beside him and held his hand, gnarled and tanned from being outside all the time. 

He wasn’t flying a sign, he was flying his hat, a black ball cap, holding it up like he was trying to catch coins from heaven, catching only rain. I stopped at the green light, cars behind me. Fished a few dollars out of the console, “Hey, Jethro!” I felt genuinely happy to see him, to see him smile at me. I held the bills out, and he thanked me. “I’m trying to do good, I’m trying. This, this ain’t no way to live.” He gestured to the open sky above him and the rain coming down on his head. 

“I love you, Jethro.” 

I meant it. 

“You’re okay. We do the best we can.”

I held my hand to my heart and he held his hand to his heart, and we waited for the light gone red to go green again. 

I drove over to the gas station at the bottom of the hill, pulled up to the pumps, noticed the woman with all her things piled up on a tarp-covered cart, saw the swaying older man thin strong shoulders in an undershirt, and thought I recognized him, knew that I knew him from somewhere, probably just around the neighborhood. “Baby,” he calls over to me, lurching like maybe he’s had a stroke, “baby, it’s raining. I got to ask, will you get me a piece of chicken in there. I’m honnnngry.” 

He drew out the word like a whine. 

“Yeah, of course,” I said, without thinking. I could easily get this man a piece of chicken. He took the gas nozzle from me, “Lemme do that.” 

I protested. He didn’t have to do anything. 

“I want to do it,” he said, and I understood that I should let him pump the gas. 

“I’ll go get you that chicken,” and moved to walk toward the store. 

“Baby,” he called, “one more thing. If you could get me a pack of Newport’s, in the box…?” 

“I dooooon’t know,” I called back over my shoulder, already knowing that I’d buy him the smokes, because small mercies are priceless in a difficult life. At the counter in the back of the store, the people smiled and laughed behind the steam trays and ice cream cooler set beside the lotto tickets and shelves of tobacco, the stands of gold jewelry and glass cases of pipes and papers, pills with bold claims. The Hindi wife of the store’s owner bustles around all day, sweeping and picking up, walking around the parking lot with incense and muttering prayers. 

I ordered the food and went to the other counter to get the smokes, a small hard rectangle that felt just like a present.  I got the man more food than he asked for, and he was holding the door when I walked out. 

“It’s your lucky day,” I said, and handed him his gifts. All the sudden I recognized him. “I know you! I sat with you on Grove Street.”

I leaned in closer to him, seeing that he had aged. “What is that phrase you said, that thing you said…?”

He paused, adjusted his parcels, his smokes and his bag of food and the collection of lumped belongings he had tucked into his shirt, right against his belly. 

The beginning of the word came to me: 

“Ashna…”

“Ashnakaya!” He exclaimed, and turned right toward me to hug me the way he’d hugged me on Grove Street. “My sister!” He held onto to me fiercely, kissed my cheek. “Ashnakaya!” 

His fist went toward the air, “Ashnakaya!” 

I still don’t know what the word means. 

He held out a small blue box, robins egg blue, and offered me the earrings and the bracelet inside. I believe in magic objects, but I don’t need anymore of them. “Nah, nah man, keep it.” 

He didn’t ask for anything else and after I said, “Go eat your dinner,” moved back toward the awning over the sidewalk in front of the store. The man who had been standing behind me at the food counter tossed a pack of Hostess cupcakes toward him as he walked. They skittered to a stop at his feet. “You got cupcakes now, too!” 

And I wasn’t lonely anymore. 

I think there is an opportunity in this loneliness to find what tells me that I’m not alone. 

In the meantime, I’m grateful that I was where I was today, because it taught me something. Human connection can come from all sorts of situations. It has been a long time since I had to crowdsource Connection, find small ways to have a shared experience with people, some meaningful exchange. 

I have been over-reliant on one source of connection and, in the current absence of that, I am left, again, to my own devices. 

There is a part of me that believes that it is almost inevitable that people will drift out of my life once they have gone through whatever process they needed me for, or whatever process we were in together, trying to grow and heal in the clumsy ways that humans do. 

That sounds callous, but it really is just the way things seems to move, at least in my life. I also have drifted from people. For me, that may sometimes be more about attachment issues and heartblocks than it is about the friendship having served its purpose.  

The vast majority of anything I write for myself (as part of my practice, which – really – is what it is, a contemplative and expressive practice) loops and stitches around themes of peace-making, conceptions of self in relation to the external, fumbling through problem solving, the perennial conundrums of navigating one’s potential, and experiential observation. 

So, it’s part of the way I housekeep my head and heart. 

This particular writing was about how – earlier – I noticed sensations of loneliness, which was interesting because I used to not feel that too much, and I figured that it was because I possibly had become over-reliant on a friendship, or had allowed myself to become attached in some weird way where absence creates a lot of feelings of stress/distress, which is kind of understandable because we are bonded and our bond exists in our bodies, too, in the ways we feel connected and the ways we feel one another’s absence, the missing…but, is probably unhealthy, the distress-around-missing, and – at the least – difficult to deal with on a regular basis because it is a disruptive and ironically disconnecting feeling…so, there are some opportunities for me to adjust my orientation to the absence of a friend and possibly get my energy focused the connection, rather than the absence, and do some stuff that I’ve been needing to do, etc. 

I think, truly (as truly as one’s thoughts can be) that everything is as it should be (based on interpretive evidence) and that this an important opportunity to do my own journeying and mentor-finding, and to work on some of the things I have been working on, to reconcile whatever is running in the background of me that makes me feel the sensations of loneliness in relation to you, because that is not necessary or accurate or remotely helpful. 

Or helpful only insofar as they let me know that I need to find some old person to hang out with or something, or reach out to friends, or sit down and write, to stay busy with things that nurture strength and love and trust that all is as it needs to be, to find a thread to flow and to follow it. 

My point, here and in the writing, was that running into two old drunk guys I know – I had just run into another one, someone whose hand I held for a long time while he was drunk and crying about a lost loved one – *evaporated* the sensations of loneliness and replaced them with a big, round goodwill and gratitude…

…and I remembered my practice of crowdsourcing Connection from when I was alone – almost very literally, at least for a season without allies and cut off from all relationships, not just physically alone, which I mostly was, but severed from all relationships and not showing myself to anyone or being at ease with anyone, how I would find – not through strategy, but through a confused and instinct driven almost desperate loneliness – ways to deeply connect with strangers and non-threatening acquaintances, have meaningful exchanges, be open hearted, supported…that is so important. 

That is a good skill to have, to be able to find connection wherever you go.

July 16

The way we understand ourselves, our experiences, and our world is based on models of understanding, schematics of belief that define our realities and the way we exist within them. These structures of perceived truth provide us with definitions and explanations about the phenomena of living, and are the foundations upon which we make meaning of what we see. 

All models are explanatory models. That is what a model does. It explains, provides a framework of reason, in the sense of grounds to exercise analytical processes and in the sense of causation, the explanation for an event, some phenomenon that we seek to understand. 

I did not know this, of course, when I was young and fumbling through my understanding of what the fuck was happening with the world and why I couldn’t stop crying and wanting to die. 

I lived in the woods with a family who was “a little different” – drove a VW van, with a mom who had a long braid, a father who built a geodesic dome for a living room way out in the woods by the river, worked on Cumberland Island, not at the paper mill. 

So, although I didn’t understand the mechanics of models in structuring my reality, I knew that some people thought differently about things than I did, than my parents did. Why, even my beloved great-grandmother, the matriarch who lived down the dirt road by the aging pear orchard, was racist as hell. 

“Don’t listen to anything she says,” my parents would say. “She’s a product of her times.” 

Years later, in an essay that would get me into the graduate program of my choice only to drop out and attempt suicide in the first semester, I mentioned that messaging from my childhood, to not listen to anything my beloved great-grandmother said about people of color, that she was wrong, but could not unlearn, did not know she was wrong. She was born in 1894. She’d been racist for a long time, a product of her times. 

That idea, that the period of time we live in can shape what we believe about other people stuck with me. I wanted to know how that worked, how someone I loved dearly could have such crummy ideas as to make my parents shake their heads. Why does that happen? 

My curiosity around this was, and still is, a child’s curiosity, a puzzle to solve, a mystery to unravel. To me, it was maddening to not be able to understand why some people are so fucking racist. 

When I began to experience stunning and violent depressions and rages at age 12, I had every reason to be sad. I had just watched the land I had lived with my whole life be bulldozed and paved. My entire town changed. The Navy came. My parents stopped laughing and sold land. However, all of that was just life, what was happening. It would be okay. It was okay. We had streets! 

Nobody acknowledged or could fathom the possibility that the reason I was so sad and pissed off was because I was sad and pissed off because I had just watched my home be destroyed, the place I loved most and was connected to, the place where I had worlds, utterly destroyed because of some deal my father was involved in that went south. 

At that age, I didn’t have the conceptual and self-reflective tools, the personal emotional intelligence, to understand that I was as upset as I was about the subdivision, the houses built over our road. 

I mean, it was a good thing? Right? 

My experience of emotionality was so tremendously powerful that it obliterated all capacity to understand anything other than that I was miserable, agonized, violently outraged, without really knowing why. It would have been enormously helpful if someone had sat down with me and just said, “Faith, it makes total sense that you’re grieving. You’ve just witnessed a horrific loss. Everything you feel right now is completely understandable.” 

To me, the woods were my home, the home to a part of me that was deeply at ease in being who I was, a little kid playing out by the marsh, pretending to be a bear. 

I have thought, for a very long time, that the woods had spirits, were full of spirits. I used to think I could feel them, and sometimes – especially at night – they were everywhere and rushing at me, a great whoosh of presence coming from the dark. 

I thought, at times, that perhaps the woods had a part of me in them, or if I had a part of them in me. They knew me well. I was a creature that moved through them, that loved them. 

If I lived in a culture that believed that the earth is alive and sentient and that trees carry spirits and ancestors are with us still, that the land carries those who died on it, that the land itself is the dust of the dead, I may have been told, “Faith, it makes total sense that you are in agony. You have watched your friends be torn down, ripped out of the ground, you have seen your sacred places defiled under concrete. The part of your soul that lives with the earth is wounded and outraged and the spirits move through you crying. It makes total sense that you are outraged. You are grieving a great loss, a tragedy.” 

However, it did not occur to anyone that perhaps I was grieving the land and the familiarity of the town I grew up in becoming plastered by a Walmart and a million gas stations, acres of strip malls, parking lots filled with the flashy cars of the Navy boys in the hot Georgia sun. My great-grandmother being old, in her 90s, wishing she could die because she’s just a nuisance anyhow, is how she put it. Everybody dead. Can’t get around, can’t hardly see, body is failing, mind still quite sharp. 

I have no idea where my parents got the idea to take me to get a psychological evaluation. Maybe from my pediatrician, about the “moodiness.” 

The model that was offered to me, and to my family was the medical model of mental illness. Depression. A chemical imbalance. Often life long. A disease of the brain. These explanations were offered without much acknowledgement that they, the explanations, were kind of dire. I mean, a lifelong disease of the brain? 

The idea was troubling to me. I tried to learn about it, but couldn’t find much but murky explanations. “Might be genetic.” 

Nonetheless, that was the model that my family and I were offered to understand why I was so fucking upset all the time, why I kept saying I wanted to die. 

Something was obviously wrong, but the explanation was wrong, too, and this – as it turns out – had devastating effects on the way I saw myself and the way my family saw me. 

It erased all other explanations, and turned my emotions into symptoms. 

July 18

Hi, _____ –  Thanks for reaching out. I don’t check LinkedIn much, so I am just now getting your message. 

Haha, I am struggling with many of the same questions you are. How to do the work we are most passionate about doing, with community and through education, without saddling oneself with a “career path” that – whole maybe related – isn’t exactly the kind of impactful work that one wants to be doing, or is so laden with requirements for credentialing that jumping through the hoops of degrees and training and licensure uses up all the energy that one wants to be using to make change and do good. 

One thing I have done is tried to find points of what I think about as synergy in choosing my path – which, as I noted, I am still trying to figure out.  

In thinking about synergy, I think about how certain opportunities might build skills or connections that will help me to do the work I most want to do, which is community-rooted resiliency education

I think that for people who have a unique vision, and unique experience or skills they want to use, it is hard to find external opportunities that are structured to hold and allow for the kind of visionary work that some people are inspired to do. 

Like, if I am working for an organization, I am doing the work of that organization, and must deliver their services as an employee. I have been lucky to work for nonprofits doing awesome healing and recovery work with community, so there have been many ways that the work I have done as an employee, the work carrying out the mission of an organization, has aligned with the work I want to be doing, and my personal mission. 

Working for organizations and community groups gave me a lot of good experience in how nonprofit service work is done, the systems that projects and initiatives exist within, and the different ways that people approach healing. So many different ways of approaching being of service! 

I am in the process of trying to find other ways of doing my work – ways that don’t require me to be in a set schedule position or make me beholden to the tasks of the organization if they are depleting to me rather than generative. 

In considering what I ought to do, I’ve taken in account my personal values and my experience in doing certain types of work in different settings to try to find what might be the best way to use my energy – what is worthwhile and, like I said, generative…inspiring and energizing and meaningful. I’m in the processing of considering what my personal mission statement might be. My vision and values. 

For me, that’s what’s shaping the path. Listening to what I am excited about and what brings up feelings of resistance in me. Exploring that.

It sounds like you are stoked about doing work to support education and prevention with young people (YES!) – and so consider the experiences you’ve had that have made you think, “This. This is it. This is what I want to do!” Not from an idea of what you should do, or what people might think is good for you to do, or what an education program or job tells you is the right path, but in your gut. 

Now, think of all the different ways that you might be able to have more of those experiences – it might be connecting with a community group, which will happen as you keep reaching out to people. 

Pay attention to things you notice on social media and in the environment. As you get more clear in how you envision what you want to be doing, you will start to notice events and conversations that line up with that. 

Social ecology is an amazing grounds upon which to do integrative education and recovery work, because we exist within our environments, and our individual struggles are tied to the struggles of the world. I think it’s totally necessary to seek out education in the interconnectness and coexistence of all things, and wish that every person working with other human beings worked from ecological perspectives. 

It’s smart of you, in my opinion, to be wary of degree programs that require a lengthy and costly clinical track. The public systems of care are not the only way to help people. I got my MA and although the education was fairly decent, it was totally unnecessary and now I have a ton of debt. In the changing world, there are going to be many opportunities (and necessities) for people to build community-rooted alternative supports and resources for people who are struggling. 

I am having all sorts of ideas now. Thanks for reaching out. It was helpful to me and inspiring to me to respond to you. Had a little bit of a “this! This is what I want to be doing!” moment. Helping people to figure out how to do what most matters to them in following their instinct to reduce harm and do good in the world. Such a human thing to want to help and not know how to go about doing it! 

I am still figuring out this stuff, too. So, for me, this exchange has been peer support. Glad you’re out there and motivated to help to prevent and heal harm! The world needs you! 

Please write back if inclined, and I hope this made sense. It’s first thing in the morning here, haha! 

July 19

What my mental illness is:

I notice that I can’t focus, and that my body is filled with sensations of fear and sadness. It is hard for me to not pay attention to these sensations, because they are attention-getting sensations. They cut off my ability to be present in what is actual and happening around me, pull my gaze into my own experience, my body shaking (literally), and the space of my heart and stomach absolutely flooding with feelings of heartbreak, fear, and loss. I am able to maintain an awareness that these things are just sensations, and that everything is actually okay, that I am okay, that the messages and thoughts that poke and prod at the feelings are just myths, code written by harm, not real. 

My eyes fill and a tear slides down my face while I sit against the wall at the dmv. I can’t stop it. I want to start crying. I am a grown person. 

I take a deep breath and tell my nervous system that it is okay, try to think of reality, the things I want to believe are real, but the sad-thoughts edge out the good, make them flimsy and without the substance of actual belief. These good things are stripped down to ideas, theoretical good things that I can tell myself are real, but that don’t feel real. What feels real is the sadness. 

When I am sad and worried about what will happen, I cannot think straight. I cannot laugh or be light in my being. The sadness comes into me and covers all that up. Obliterates me. Installs the sad world inside of me, totally fucks me up. 

I understand, in my wise and peaceful mind, my pure mind, which I do have and but can only occasionally access and inhabit, that there is absolutely nothing to be sad about it, there is nothing to be scared of, that all things are as they are and the world is full of beauty and wonder and immense possibility for healing and joyfulness in simply being. 

I understand that gratitude for whatever happens to me or does not happen to me is the only righteous and reverent response to the miracle of phenomena that I even exist, and that I am the person that I am, and that I get to experience love and loss again and again, and that it is a beautiful and sweet thing, all of it, no matter what happens.

I understand that I can take a deep breath and look at the underside of a leaf and be amazed to be standing in the moment I am standing in.

It is absolutely true that the cause of human suffering is the wanting of things to be other than they are, desire for something other than what is. 

All of my sadnesses and fears are based in wanting something to be some way or another in a way that creates attachment. 

There is some part of me though, some wounded sad and fearful part of me, that simply cannot grasp and learn these things. 

When that part of me – which lives in my “survival brain”, because anything that creates such strong sensations in me is tied to my stress-response/trauma-response mechanisms – is activated, by stress and especially “emotional stress,” stress that is formed in attachments that set up responses of fear and sadness around circumstances that are actually neutral or positive, due to distorted perception and narratives, I literally cannot inhabit the part of myself that knows that everything is okay.

Because activation of stress and trauma responses affects perception and meaning-making processes, my experience of myself and my life and my reality changes. 

I don’t see things clearly. I don’t read things right. It is hard to think straight and my intuition is muddied. 

I am ungrounded, live wires firing off in the part of my brain that learned to be afraid of pain and wants to avoid it. 

It is not, for example, inherently harmful to me if someone stops being my friend. This is how it goes. People move in and out of other people’s lives. My peaceful self is totally accepting and celebrating of these workings of the human heart and our relationships. I completely understand and am joyful in the belief that everything ultimately works out in ways that we can not even begin to imagine, so to just be grateful to be living. Keep moving forward. 

However, my “survival brain” does not seem to know this, and so – when I begin noticing, (without trying to) the learned signs and indicators of a friendship that is changing – I feel sad and fearful. 

The extent to which I become sad and fearful exists in proportion to how much a friendship matters to me, how much love I have for the person, how much joy my knowing them and laughing with them and dreaming with them has created. 

So, if I love someone a lot, the feels can be tremendous when I perceive them becoming distant. 

It’s been a lifelong thing that my sadness has pushed people away. Made me unbearable. Neurotic. Supremely unfun. 

I understand that there is no room for fear in big love, in real love. That fear creates doubts around the integrity of love itself, and erodes trust, which is less about what the person will or won’t do, and more about believing that the person is a good person. Good people want to be seen as good, because they are good. It is supremely dishonorable to doubt the word of a good person. 

That is what I hate most about the sadness/fear, that it robs me of the experience of being secure and joyful and celebratory in being loved by a good person. It completely fucks that up, and causes harm to the person I love. 

So, my solution is to deal with these aspects of my survival brain being attuned to certain things in the way that it is, through rigorous practice, reduction of avoidable stressors to reduce baseline stress activity and support resilience, and doing every single thing I know to do that keeps me in the present and allows me to inhabit my peaceful mind and experience more freely. 

I understand that I can just shift into my peaceful state, shut down the noise in me, and be deeply happy and content with all that is. I can do this. I am doing it now. 

However, it is sometimes really hard to shift out of those trauma-rooted states. My experience of being in a Trauma/harm-rooted state is that these things can be self-reinforcing. Meaning, that the stuff that comes up for me – the feels and the thoughts, the images – they all create additional harm, freak me out, cause pain. I can feel my reaction to some thoughts in my body, and this is powerfully problematic. I have been trying to learn to recognize lines of thought that may be issued through the workings of harm and trauma, so that I can know that these are just projections of my fears and are not real, but the space between thought and explosion of feelings around the thought, before I can even catch it…it’s like being stuck in the waves. 

There are things I try to remember to do, like stay in my body, watch my breath, observe my surroundings neutrally, with compassion and curiosity, remind myself of what is real, and know that it might not glimmer so much as the distortions explode, but that is because my nervous system is attuned to react powerfully to things that a part of me believes are threatening in some way. These can be social, emotional, attachment related, financial, environmental, personal. They can be related to loss or physical harm, or humiliation and being judged, being socially or economically punished. These threatening things can also be me seeing bulldozers and picturing earth pulled asunder. 

Today, just because of my thoughts, I started to shake in the dmv, and almost started crying. I knew it was because of my thoughts and I didn’t really believe my thoughts, but they felt real. I had the feelings of the thoughts as though they were real. I tried to stay calm, to bring my vibrations up, to fill my heart with love for fear that these blaring thoughts and feels about things I would feel sad about would radiate out from me and set seeds in the world of unfolding events. “No! That’s not what you want! Don’t think about what you don’t want! Don’t picture it!” 

While in the meantime, my headspace is stunned and flooded with thoughts and images of precisely what I don’t want.

07/24/2019

Hi _______ – 

I hope this finds you well. I am reaching out to you to request consultation, consideration for coaching services. 

As I write this, there is a small voice in me that is simply saying, “Help! I need help!” 

Let me assure you, I am happy and relatively healthy, and not in crisis in any way, but I do need help. 

I don’t know how much you know of my personal history as a person with mental health challenges related to her neurodiversity and life experiences, but a HUGE part of all of that (if not the central factor) is that I am a person who at age 12 was tested as having an IQ of 151. 

I am in the habit of acknowledging that these tests measure only a small range of who a person is and how intelligent they are, but they do measure something, if nothing other than how different you are from other people. Across a couple of measures, there are only 2.6% of people whose cognitive processing styles trend in the ways that mine do. 

I don’t know why my heart is beating so fast as I write this. I don’t think I have ever talked to anyone in a help-seeking way about this and perhaps something in me recognizes that this is something I desperately need help with, and support around. 

I need help organizing my processes and managing my life in a way that supports my growth and potential, and that allows me to develop my strongest gifts. I am twice exceptional, perhaps three or four times exceptional, due to trauma-creating lived experience which adds complexity to the conundrum of being really smart and yet also having profound difficulties in some areas. 

I understand what challenges impair my ability to be most effective and ultimately well and healthy in life, and I even understand what could be done to address them. I think that because I understand these things, I believe that I ought to be able to do them, and for years and years I have tried, but challenges with attention and stress vulnerability and the functionality and design of my life seem to derail me or facilitate my drifting in my focus and activity. 

I am in the process of making changes in my life, due to some of my current life structures being untenable and ill-conducive to my Wellness. I have things I am working on that I am excited about. I am trying to develop opportunities in the form of several big, ongoing projects, all of which are of vital importance to me. 

It is really important that I figure out how to do my life and work differently. 

(In my awareness as I write this are sensations related to the fact that nobody ever, ever talked to me about how my brain works. Despite years and years of mental health treatment, nobody – not my providers, not my family, not my teachers, nobody – ever talked with me about how maybe the ways I was smart had everything to do with why I was struggling. I didn’t even know I was smart, or that I was different. I knew I was different, but I just thought that meant I was fucked up. I knew that I was smart, because learning and knowing about things was so easy, but I just thought that meant that I should be able to do everything that anyone else could do, only better, when in actuality I had (and have) sensory and cognitive processing difficulties that functionally impair my ability to do or to cope with what is easy for most people.)

I appreciate the opportunity to reach out to you. Just writing this message has felt therapeutic, because in this small way, I feel powerfully less alone in my experience, and am taking responsibility for my wellbeing by reaching out for support. I am also connecting, and being open about my processing differences. 

This is a positive help-seeking experience! 

Thanks for your time and consideration in reading through this. Please let me know if you think that your consulting/coaching services might be able to assist me in figuring out how to be the person I am most effectively and most joyfully. 

I have very limited funds to invest in seeking professional help, but I also 

recognize that the constant stress of trying to do a life that is powerfully counter-therapeutic in its structures and functions creates enormous stress and difficulty for me, and I can’t continue to not address my needs – primarily the need to not have to go to work for an external entity to whom I sell my time, my emotional and cognitive labor, and my stress capacity, ultimately giving these things to work that in some ways is counterproductive to my goals as a human being. 

Creating different ways to do my life requires structure and planning, processes that support my accomplishing tasks inherent in change…and I need help. 

What do you think? 

July 27

It has, according to my calculations, been 10 years since I began – on a whim – recording my some of my reflections on experience as part of a project to draw a picture everyday for a year. At various points throughout that time, I have felt strongly convinced that what I most want to be doing in the world is to simply be moving about and looking around and making note of the things that I find beautiful and terrible. 

I have been able to weave this practice of paying attention and contemplating experience into my everyday life as I know it, musing over beauty and tragedy as I sit at the traffic light, as I hold someone’s hand, and in that I am lucky. 

In being a person with a big, bold imagination, I have often yearned to really see and to really feel the places and circumstances that I am able to bring to mind, that come – actually – unbidden, not brought by any part of me that is consciously deciding to dream of being far away from where she is, I have had to learn to be happy and grateful for what is happening, what I am able to do. Accepting of the things that I believe I am not able to do, or that I am not doing at the moment, and to somehow trust that there is some purpose to me sitting in a meeting under fluorescent lights when I’d much rather be outside where it is quiet and the air is sweet with the smell of earth. 

It is difficult to live a life that you don’t feel fully alive in, even if it is a life that others might be blessed to have. 

The graciousness of my existence in relation to the sheer human atrocity that defines many lives on this planet is something to be deeply grateful for. I have no reason not to be delighting in the everyday of my life, considering how truly difficult so many lives are. 

…and, yet, I want more…and I want less. 

I want, more than anything, to be able to use my time in the way I need to use my time in order to inhabit a state of wellbeing that I have come to understand as facilitating of laughter and lightness in being, of open heartedness and the ability to really care about what is happening in the world, not to care in this guarded and buffered way required in the expectation that one will not feel outrage and grief in going to the supermarket or participating appropriately in a meeting. 

Always, there is this countervoice in me that calls me out: “Why should you, Faith, get to spend your time doing what, basically, you want to do, when so many people are humble and content enough to do what they have to do, even if what they have to do is terrible, and they aren’t going around maudlin for wanting more, they do not bemoan the tedium and task of the everyday. They are grateful and happy for what they have. They are responsible and not selfish. They work hard, and don’t go around with this heaviness in them that blares all day – a dull sound like thundering tin – that their lives are killing them. They are able to let go of the people that they are and their deepest wants and needs as animals and in their core humanity. They are able to shut that shit down and do what they have to do. What is so special about you, Faith, that you should get to even think about these things, these questions of what you want to do and what you need to do?” 

For my entire life, I have based my activities and expectations of myself on a framework of functionality that was designed to conscript people to working in models of modern American industry, which exist for the benefit of American industry, whether that industry be tank tops and flip flops made in China, or high volume factory farms, war machines, or prisons, which create profit for the entities of corporation and business. 

The values of hard work being defined by your ability to get over yourself and show up for some bullshit that you don’t need or want to do, and to be happy with what you’ve got, even if your kids are hungry and the place smells like mold…these are values that were taught for the purpose of impelling participation and investment in the systems of economy, education, and reinforcing culture that keep all this going, that keep these systems of economy, education, and reinforcing culture going. 

It is my educated understanding – because I have been privileged enough to have access to learn about and contemplate ideas around what shapes our human experience – that who I am and what I am, most truly, has little interest in participating in these activities of commerce and conscriptive culture that says, “well, of course you have to strive for this sort of life where you get up and go to work everyday and you have a house and you have a car and you buy new jeans and like the way the target smells, and you buy the groceries and eat the colorful food made in factories you’ll never see and you don’t think about or talk about the deep fear and sadness that blooms in you when you wonder what happened to the person you were and the world you used to live in.” 

In many ways, this is as much a disability rights issue than it is anything else, because the reasons that I cannot participate in these models of commerce and consumption are rooted in that I experience these structures-of -how -we -do-things (how we work, how we get our food, what we do for fun) as harmful to the person I am in the effect that, for example, going to work day after day after day and having all this information and experience jammed into my consciousness in ways that overwhelm and stun, has on my ability to be reasonably well within my life, meaning not having a ‘panic attack’ – not being in fight, flight, freeze, submit, collapse mode in the course of everyday. 

“You should be able to do it, Faith. If you’re so skilled at all this recovery stuff, you should be able to keep your life together and be well enough to be able to go to work, and be responsible. You shouldn’t be thinking about going to the woods, or not having anywhere you have to be. People don’t get those things. Mothers can’t do those things.” 

I have a lot of feels around the fact that these expectational models of what a person is supposed to be able to do in order to be deemed a responsible adult and in order to be seen as a good mother, have acted upon the life of my family in such a way that I am reduced to an expectation-bound role, and that my kids are bound to be hurt and disappointed by my seeming inability to get my shit together and just get over myself and be happy to be giving someone a ride to the mall because these times won’t last forever. I love giving my daughter a ride to the mall, because i love her, but – really – is it actually necessary for me to be spending my time like that, or for me to be spending my time with her like that? 

I mean, why is she going to the mall?

“It’s what teenagers do, mom.” 

It’s so crazy to me that even being a person with a really lengthy history of mental health diagnosis and challenges deemed to be mental health related, I am still expected to be able to do everything anyone else does. There is some profound irony (and something that feels cruel), in taking away a person’s legal custody of their children because of mental health concerns and then expecting them to be able to do and be and show for everything a healthy, responsible, American mom can do and be and show up for. 

Within these models of the normal American mother there is the assumption that one’s children are central to one’s life, and that being with one’s children in whatever capacity, and being available to one’s children, is the paramount purpose of being once one becomes a mother. 

This is not to say that one’s children are not inherently central and connected to you, due to the immutable bond that exists between mother and child, or that – of course, you delight in the mere existence and presence of this person who came from you, this person who was fed by your body – or that, duh, if you ever need me, really need me, I will absolutely be there…but, that in the maternal role is this stripping of the person that inhabits that role, this critical dissolving of the things that this person wants and needs in their own lives, for their own selves, for the people they are. There is this expectation that we ought to give ourselves up, that this is noble and good, to exist only for our children, to do only what is best for them even if it comes to harm or cost to you, even if it kills you. Most every mother would likely die for her child, and most children would likely fight for their mother. 

So, why can’t I just do what I need to do and get over myself and do my life in a way that creates the optimal security and abundance for my children and be happy in that? 

My children are teenagers now. They were children before. They are edging into adulthood. These are exciting years. 

It’s crazy to me that all I am thinking about doing is restructuring my work and exploring other avenues of income which may be beneficial to the family and finding ways to travel more because that is important to me, to be having those experiences. I am thinking about being away from my children for several weeks, every few months, which is not that much, when you consider some people’s situations. I want to travel around and do workshops and training about recovery and community building in under-resourced areas. I want to find more and better, more effective ways to use my experience and gifts to alleviate suffering in the world in some way. In considering these relatively not-shocking variations on the normative expectations of mothers of adolescents, it’s crazy that I should feel inclined to launch into sociological critical analysis of the normative maternal role as impeding of freedoms and as harmful to mothers and children in its establishing of expectations which functionally strip mothers of the ability to be and to explore who they are outside of the role of mother, simply in the requirements of time, attention, and priority that one is expected to give their children, even when their children are near grown and don’t want their mom’s hovering around in their lives anyway…?

When I Am Well 

I experience sensations of groundedness – an ease and presence in being, a relaxedness. 

I am able to think clearly and am able to focus. 

I have ideas and inspirations.

I see beauty and have gratitude.

I sleep well and am motivated to exercise and go outside. 

My appetite is for healthy foods.

 I am able to laugh and be witty. 

I feel in-my-body, and have sexual energies. I am curious and interested. 

I feel loving toward and appreciative of people. 

There is very little fear, and I am able to quickly and effectively correct for triggers. 

My stress vulnerability is low.

 I am solid. 

When I am very well

I have a strong sense of spiritual connection and resonance with all things, and a deep appreciation for all things. 

I feel sensations of lightness and grounded excitement in the center of me. 

I experience poetry and synchronicity.

 I feel alive in my animal body and clear in my spirit. 

I believe strongly in a beautiful future, and have good energy toward doing without doing. 

I am peaceful and unhurried and am able to experience deep, present engagement in what I am doing, and my observer mind is sitting back smiling watching the phenomena of being but not thinking too much about anything at all. 

There is no fear. 

I feel strong in my body and generally amazing. 

Daily Maintenance 

I need to sleep for 8 hours at least 4 days a week. If I get less than 6 hours of sleep, I need to rest during the day or go to bed earlier.

I need to eat appropriately for my physical needs. Small meals, high protein, raw foods, adequate minimally processed carbs, very low sugar. 3-4 liters of water per day. 

I need to maintain and work toward improving my physical environment – make bed, keep room clean, work incrementally on projects to improve living space and decrease environmental stressors like clutter and grime and old paint, dust. 

I need to meaningfully connect with the people in my life in ways that are generative/nurturing of the health of the relationship. 

I need to spend time writing at least 5 days a week because writing helps me to keep myself well and helps me to stay connected with myself and what’s important to me. Writing is how I am a friend to myself. 

I need to spend time outside everyday. 

I need to exercise fairly rigorously at least 3-4 days a week and exercise moderately 1-2 days a week. 1-2 rest days with stretching and light strength training. 

I need to listen to music and expose myself to ideas that are interesting and important to me. 

I need to make note of and spend time with at least one thing that creates at least small feelings of deep beauty and appreciation in me. 

I need to intentionally name the things I am grateful for. 

I need to review my commitments and responsibilities for the day and surrounding days and plan my energy expenditures and time to afford self care and daily maintenance. 

I need to spend time with contemplation and sense of spiritual connection 

Wellness Tools

Being outside 

Unstructured time

Rest

Writing – connecting with myself

Connecting with people I love (esp. my partner) 

Making plans for a positive future, working on those plans 

Music / art 

Exercise/heavy work 

Taking care of my physical environment 

Triggers -> things that create stress reactions that impact wellness or change subjective experience, things that ‘take me out of my Resiliency zone’ 

Biological vulnerabilities 

Not enough sleep 

Not enough food 

Too much sensory stress 

-> how this can show up: 

irritability, cognitive impairment, distractable, General distress of varying intensity, with potential tearfulness and reactivity, increased stress vulnerability and – depending on confluence of factors (e.g. how sleep deprived or underfed I am, external pressures, capacity/time for rest/self care, presence of additional perceived stressors in micro and macro life domains, hormones) -> 

Vulnerability to acute severe depressive episodes that are connected to -> 

Challenges and Experiences Related to What My Rudimentary Survival Brain has Experienced and Learned as Harmful and Threatening

Physiological stress responses, bolts of energy in my muscles, or slackness in my body, shivering, internal sensations of distress (‘unease’ in my center, feelings of ‘anxiety,’ sensations of grief, generally increased stress vulnerability, potential for radical shift in experience and thinking/perception, reactive affective distress that is difficult to regulate, significantly impaired cognitive function and ability to connect with and be in the present, inability to communicate well, or to speak, extremely comprehensive intrusive thoughts and images of fear-related things 

Note: Even as I am experiencing these things, I am aware of what is happening and I understand rationally that I am not well and that my brain is operating from my stress response mechanisms. I am aware that I am ungrounded, and yet I can see this, and so am not entirely ungrounded. 

This awareness makes things more difficult, because I see the harm in where my mind is residing and I have been able – at times – to help myself feel better, and to make peace with distress and to tolerate it reasonably well, to at least not feed into it. 

If I am severely activated, and do not have capacity to cope, I am not able to feel better and that is scary and painful for me, because the feelings and thoughts that are part of that state are related to trauma and when my survival brain belches out a mixed assortment of memory, thought, visualization of possible events connected to fear and sadness, it is overwhelming and it feels like times I wanted to/tried to die and that is re-traumatizing. 

I have deep learning about being a person who can’t cope and who creates harm to people and things she cares about because of the way she is and when my survival brain begins spitting out vivid memories associated with the experience of not being okay, these very detailed and affectively-loaded images explode in me and are interpreted by my survival brain as a threat, and sometimes (often) I literally wince and gasp/make wounded sounds at what is showing up in my head. 

The internal distress escalates to complete overwhelm and a chaos of fight, flight, freeze, with feelings of being stunned and rushes of strong physical pain associated with emotionality. 

Like how profound grief hurts.

It hurts like that. Makes it hard to breathe, makes me want to collapse and feel lightheaded. Stunned and panicked all at once. 

Circumstantial triggers 

Too much to do

Pressure (or perceived pressure)

Lack of (or perceived lack of, and if I am perceiving lack, I am already not okay) authentic positive experiences 

Conflict (or perceived conflict) 

Perceptions of people being angry at me or hostile toward me, being around angry and hostile people, seeing too many people suffer and not having positive experiences with people (experiences which are neutral or eustress creating, not distress creating, not being able to experience things positively)

(Again, if I am perceiving->experiencing things as distressing, I am already not okay.)

Not having time to connect with what is important to me, having difficulty connecting when I need connection (Being stressed or already not okay in ways that make it hard for me to experience ease with people -> major escalator, many feedback loops nested into this.)

Being in stress-producing environments that are loud and with threats (actual or perceived, being around legit sketchy people or people who are harming other people)

Perception/narrative cues that I am not okay: 

– self criticism and judgement, negative self evaluation which shows up as intrusive thoughts and vivid messaging about myself, my capabilities and my future 

(this comes from *deep* learning)

–  perception of loss or compromise of important relationships 

– feeling not understood or judged by people who matter to me 

Warning signs that indicate increased stress vulnerability and vulnerability of challenges: 

Increased sound/light/movement sensitivity

Feeling physical disgust in environments

Being unmotivated and having difficulty in engaging in action 

Feeling disengaged and disconnected 

Having a sense of myself as not grounded, catching myself getting carried away in my thinking, having strong feelings or no feelings at all

Not sleeping well or being tired all the time

Minor intrusive thoughts/pressures about things I “have to do” 

Eating bags of potato chips for dinner, or not eating enough 

Increased reliance on/use of substances 

Not having things to say, feeling cognitively sluggish and uninspired

Not writing. Forgetting that I am a writer. 

Forgetting what I am doing

Losing track of time 

Difficulty organizing thoughts and expressing myself

Worth noting

Because of experiences of not being okay and then really not being okay in ways that created significant harm in my life and to myself and to people who love me, which resulted in legitimate neuropsychophysiological trauma…

(in the sense that the trauma resides in my experience not as a ‘victim’ narrative in my psychology, or as an idea, but as a complex state that apparently involves mechanisms of my survival brain that are sometimes outside of the realm of my conscious, rational control and which take over my experiences in ways that are retraumatizing because I involuntarily and with little effective power see and think about and feel all of these terrible things that I know aren’t happening and that I know aren’t real and nonetheless they are happening and real in my body and in the images in my head. I see and know that these states disconnect me from what is healthy and strong in me and I know they are dangerous and that is scary and sad and that makes it worse.) 

…that is associated with experiences of not being okay, there is a rapid fire feedback loop that dramatically overwhelms me. 

It is imperative that when I am not okay, I do whatever I need to do to get back to being okay as quickly as possible, by whatever means necessary, and to not try to be okay when I am not, because that never works. 

Action plan 

Acknowledge that I am not okay. Be okay with not being okay. 

(Need: Some phrase or signifier that anchors me in compassion and acceptance and a commitment to simply being with what I am experiencing.) 

Remind self of spiritual/philosophical groundings that support nonattachment, trust in what is, and loving kindness toward self and others.

 (Need phrase or signifier. Example: Mudita – as a phrase and as a framework of orienting to and ascribing feeling toward events that stimulate experiences of envy –  has been very helpful in neutralizing perceptions that cause me harm, are dishonorable to reality, are harming of those I love, and are not in alignment with my values. Gratitude and appreciation for what is happening (whatever it is) has also been helpful, as has trusting that whatever is happening is exactly what needs to be happening and reassuring myself that I will be okay no matter what.) 

Barrier to utilizing perspective grounding: If I am distressed past a certain extent, I can know these things in my head, but I cannot *feel* the peace that fully inhabiting these beliefs/perspectives brings. 

Loophole: Direct these perspectives to the state itself, savor it for what it is, be thankful for it, to be alive to feel pain. Remind self that pain is connected to love, and instead of getting stuck in “I love something, oh my god, I’m gonna lose it!” focus on gratitude for having the experience of deeply loving, really center in that, and assert belief in a positive future no matter the outcomes? Accept and embrace that I will not feel immediately peaceful, that I will not feel immediately good, that I am hurting and that pain is telling me something, be grateful for the pain as a message or as information about what needs healing. 

Do not incur additional harm in attribution. 

Remind self of how it feels to be deeply grounded and present. Do not mourn that I am not currently deeply grounded and present. Remind self that I will inevitably feel better and that I will reinhabit the sacred circle. 

Be patient with myself. Do not expect myself to be able to just be able to be okay, even though I know it is theoretically possible. 

Tend to the body. Run or walk or lift weights

Stop everything to the extent possible 

Barriers/feedback loops: compulsory responsibilities and obligations, pressures. Learned complex around being a disappointment and a failure if I am not okay.

(connected to)

Fear: if I cannot show up for something, people will be angry, disappointed and I will become disposable 

(connected to)

Underlying belief: if I do not meet people’s needs and expectations, they will be angry at me or disappointed in me and they will ultimately dispose of me or decide that I am a loser they don’t want to be friends with. 

Do not try to show up or be there for things that I am not capable of showing up well for. There is no good reason for me to show up for anything having anything to do with other people if I am not going to be able to show up at least somewhat well. If I can’t do it, and do it being well, without causing additional stress to myself or setting myself for an impossible situation, then call it off. It serves nothing for me to force myself to try to be okay when I am not. It is “painful” for me to be around people when I am not okay and they know I am not okay. It is “not safe” for me. The way I am when I am not okay causes problems in communication and affect and behavior and that creates harm for me and for other people involved. I do not want to be around people when I am not okay. It is hard to connect with people when I am not okay. That hurts me and scares me and makes me feel alone. It is pointless and stupid to try to force myself to “shift out of it” if I am past a certain threshold of distress. It takes time to reset. I can’t just “be okay” if I am fully activated in a trauma-related state. That means that sometimes I won’t be able to talk or to do things or to be there in the way that people want me or need me to be there, which ties into potential triggers around letting people down and damaging relationships, losing people. 

I need it to be okay to not show up. To not be available

AND I believe that there are things I can do or remind myself of when I am in these states to aid in their neutralization. 

First, awareness that I am in a state. 

Grounding in compassion with the state. I cannot always do this with myself if I am significantly escalated, because the content of state (which could probably be summed up as vivid shame-and-loss trauma) is not conducive to compassion, even though I can see that I am suffering, the content of the state is counter to compassion. In these states, I feel frustrated and disappointed and like a hopeless fuckup. 

(When these states affect my relationships or my ability to show up for things that are important to me (important for some reason or another), I feel angry and resentful toward myself as the creature I am.)

(I seriously think this is why some people commit suicide. States like this are like a hall of mirrors full of trap doors and double-backs. They are a set up for extreme existential and experiential distress.)  

Important:

Recognize that when I am saying “I feel like…”

(for example, ‘we are not best friends anymore’) 

I am giving information about what I am feeling and about the thought that comes up around the feeling. This is not to say that I actually believe we are not best friends anymore, but that I am having the feelings of deep loss and profound sadness and that I am having the painful thought (that I do not like and do not believe, but that is intrusively inserting itself into my experience) that a relationship is threatened or that a person will not want to be my friend anymore. 

I do not believe these things, and yet I feel them as though they are actual and happening. When tremorous feels reach a 5+ and definitely when they are at a 10+ – I experience a persistent and complex intrusive blaring of thoughts and sensations re: the content of my fears and sadnesses, which create additional trauma responses because of my tendency for affective processing of mental images and mind-content, meaning that what I think about and involuntarily visualize stimulates my stress/trauma response -> my thoughts and feelings can create additional stress and trauma. 

Tremorous feels represent activation of my fear, and show the attributes/characterizations of my fear.

When I am in that state, I am scared and sad, mostly about losing people that I love and fucking up my life. 

Because I have “lost” people and caused harm in relationships and made some pretty grievous errors, and have harmed myself in relation to tremorous feels that become disabling consuming crises of fear and trauma responses going completely into overdrive, all of that comes up for me, even if, when I am well, i have reconciled/made peace with those losses and become appreciative and compassionate towards those errors. 

So, I am basically in a trauma-affected state when I am at 10+. 

I recognize that the feels represent old harms, my body remembering heartbreak, replaying it. Replaying all the heartbreaks, all at once. 

What others can do to help me/things to be aware of

Understand that I am not trying to be difficult and that I already feel terrible about the prospect of disappointing people. 

Give me space if I need it. Do not be disappointed in me for needing space to take care of myself, even if it is not ideal or not what the other person needs from me in the moment. Do not take it personally if I need space to collect myself and get grounded. 

Support me in following daily maintenance, esp. sleep and food and limiting exposure to unnecessary stressors. 

Recognize that my communication is impaired and that pressure to speak or communicate clearly creates additional inability to speak, because I freeze and panic. 

Be aware that involuntary perception of judgement, criticism, and harm-I’m-causing is heightened, and I have particularly strong fear/retreat responses to people expressing frustration, people getting angry at me because of the way I am “being,” people talking with me about how I am not handling things well and how I should…etc. etc. 

My cognition and executive function and ability to implement prior learning around skills and perspectives is significantly impaired in these states, and that contributes to feelings of helplessness and frustration, feedback loops of tragic inefficacy. 

When I am in those states, I am essentially under internal siege and am just doing the best I can not to roll up in a ball until it’s over. 

Hug me, let me hug you. Walk with me. Remind me to look up. Talk to me about neuromechanics and philosophy. Sit somewhere quiet and beautiful with me. Breathe with me. 

Aug 19 – 

So, as far as a wellness tool and preventative actions I can take, I have observed over the past couple of days a tendency to get way consumed by my thinking and processing and contemplation – I think I am working through some really deep learning/unlearning processes, and reconciling some of the roots of distress in my experience, and that’s important…

However, in doing this, it is really easy for me to get totally absorbed in just sitting and thinking and feeling in this little solipsistic capsule of subjective experience and orientation toward my environment. 

I need to watch out for that.

Yesterday, I had to consciously *try* to pull myself into the present, to quiet down my thinking processes. 

(As I am writing this, I am wondering about contemplation as a process of thinking and contemplation as a process of deeply being present and open to and considering with curiosity what might come forth in one’s awareness. I think, for me, it’s both a top down “let me think about this analytically” and a “oh, okay, I am seeing what comes up and looking at that.”) 

Sometimes what comes up in the course of a day or as a broad theme in my life stimulates an impulses (a response to noticing that something creates distress or dissonance within my experience, an impetus toward “okay, I gotta figure this out.” 

My analytical process – by virtue of how I think –  takes on a rapid mind of its own, an involuntary churning through of thoughts and ideas and feelings and images/imaginings an…man, that can be stress producing, to be in sustained conscious and reflective awareness in relation to mind-states and affective processes. 

(Especially if am working through something that has the capacity – based on tendencies in interpretation stemming from deep learning – to create distress and especially of what I am reflecting on and making efforts to reconcile involves me feeling resistant to a certain way of thinking or feeling about something, ego dystonic and in conflict with my values or harm-producing to me -> feedback loops, which I am also working on undoing…so, it becomes this process of sitting with and looking at and deeply pondering these very uncomfortable and toothy landscapes of my shadow side and trauma-rooted experiences.) 

I have been in this long process of eroding fears and deep learned limitations in what I *feel safe* in doing and being. That means that I have spent enormous amounts of time over the past few years sitting and thinking and feeling, and not being enormously present in my immediate environments and dimensional existence. Ironically, one of my ‘thinking’ motivations – a topdown, ego constructed motivation – in trying to reconcile fears is that I know that going through these processes will ultimately help me to be more present and more at peace and more connected to the most important center of myself. 

I have to be very intentional in not spending too much time in that state of reflection and deconstruction of learned experience, because it separates me from my environment and severs my connection to what exists outside of me, and to my simple merging with all of that. 

Being in the state of resolving distress –  ‘what is this that is arising in me as a problem (suffering creating), something that I need to reconcile in the knee-jerk of how I’m seeing and interpreting a situation, because how I am seeing it is creating distortion and distress for me, how does this work and what does this mean?’ – can make me forget that none of this matters all that much and the world is a beautiful and fascinating and totally fucking absurd place, full of wonder and potential and great riches of experience right here in this very moment.

Trying to reconcile suffering by giving it attention and understanding how it works is helpful only insofar as the process by which we seek to gain understanding does not reinforce suffering or teach me to orient to suffering at the expense of my ability to interact with and engage with that immediate reality and the world around me. 

My interest understanding the basic mechanics of and landscapes of my personal style of suffering lies in a) duh, not wanting to suffer and b) recognizing that the states which cause suffering are powerful, informative, and dangerous, and c) recognizing that these states sometimes exist outside of the realm of my conscious control and intent, thus d) I need to learn how these states work so that I can navigate them in ways that are less harmful to me and people I care about. 

However, it is of vital importance to me that I remember that participation in and action in the world I live in, as well as intentional building toward the world I want to live in are crucial tools in responding to suffering and I understand that part of how suffering works with me is that it is painful for me to be caught in my head and heart and disconnected to what I want to be real…and so it is an obvious solution to be actively engaging in physical and material activities that connect me to the present and contribute to the present I want to create. 

Aug 20

Majorly helpful at the moment is drawing and visual art, also thinking about the house plans – especially the map room, thinking about gear for the planned trip (the trip I am going to go on!) and taking action

What is not super helpful for me is having a job and having to go to work, although I understand conceptually that I have a pretty sweet gig and that I ought to be able to suck it up and perform. Ugh. I just don’t want to think about anything about work. It’s become an involuntary stressor. 

Speaking of, it occurs to me that things (situations, scenarios, people, places) that I have repeated negative experiences with tend to become involuntary stressors – meaning that I experience sensations of stress arousal in a particular direction around those things, based on learning and association. 

This is very dangerous and impedes my ability to be at ease and to participate well and to be present for new learning because when I am scared I am experiencing fear and that is what I learn about a thing, despite other possible experiences I might be having if I weren’t scared. 

So much of this is involuntary -> happens lightning quick. 

Notes on biological triggers

I am at what I calculate to be a mild hormonal disadvantage, the entering into the outer edge of my ‘premenstrual’ state, where progesterone and testosterone are low. I can support myself in decreasing vulnerability to hormone related tremorous feels and activation of complexes by:

  • maintaining an awareness of vulnerability 
  • Following daily maintenance recommendations (seriously, do these things)
  • Keeping an eye on my mind and body sensations
  • Use reality-centering memories and beliefs to counter distorted perception and reaction (you know what these are.)
  •  Draw and write as much as possible. 
  •  Work on the house and do things that help you to feel good about yourself 
  • Keep on the ‘up and up’ – immediately focus sensations and energies around fears into love and peacefulness and gratitude to be alive and assertions of okayness regardless of outcomes.
  • Remember what that guy with the egg at the home improvement store said: “We create what we think. Be careful what you think.” 
  • Seriously…you have got to be vigilant in not letting this process and tendency unfurl. You – nor anyone else – needs to go through that again. It is super harmful and it fucks up your life. 

August 21 

There is thunder this afternoon, but it’s still far off. I’m sitting on my porch and not on the clock, though I oughta be…

It is so difficult to not let the missing feels drift into fear and sadness feels – to keep them anchored in love and appreciation and gladness for what is, what might come – whatever that might be. I have tried to counter the stirrings of a fearful/sad missing with memories of good times and assurances – but, that makes me feel in a muddle, too, because it sets up hoped-for outcomes. 

The only way I feel any peace about things is by finding ways to center in gratitude for and acceptance of whatever happens, and to tap into the energy of what I want to move toward, which are the life plans and endeavors in living well, walking happily and freely down roads, having conversations I want to have. Laughing. Being at ease. 

It might be good for me to work on re-opening myself to the vulnerability of what I deeply want – which is mostly to hang out with you and get to feel that sense of camaraderie and best-friendship.

I gotta get back to that place of belief in that what I want is in the process of becoming real. 

I am working on a diagram about secure and insecure attachment. Well, haha, I have a blank piece of paper in front of me. 

I think that the drift toward bummed and anxious, insecure states in relation to our friendship and love has to do with attachment issues and ways those tie into fear and self-protection, my learned tendencies.

That’s important. 

It fucks me up so much when I let myself edge into insecure attachment. It impairs my ease in being. 

The solution is not to try to guarantee security by adherence to certain practices and regular provisions of assurances, but to be able to inhabit that orientation of delight and curiosity and gratitude and appreciation and LOVE that makes me happy to just be in this, and to be able to trust that there is something connecting me to my most important friends that transcends the usual, easily-broken connections. 

I think there are conditional states of security – where maybe one is ‘secure’ so long as this isn’t happening and that isn’t happening, and then there are more spiritually and philosophically grounded states of security – where one is secure in the fact that they love and are loved and recognize the sacredness of that, and are grateful to be in what amounts to a momentary partnership with someone, working with them together to build a life, without any guarantees about how that will look or how long it will last. 

August 22

So, this  thought occurred to me today that when I am interpreting myself and the viability of my relationship in a pain-producing, suffering-creating way, I am seeing through the wrong “world eyes.” I think there is something to this that I wrote above, something to the pain that is caused by perceptions rooted in a worldview based on comparison and self-as-object/commodity, evaluated and judged to be worthy or not worthy based on the ideals of a consumerist and ultimately non-loving world, where love is conditional upon one’s values within frameworks of beauty, ‘success,’ social capital, etc.

Fuck that. 

I think that identifying the source of these garbage perspectives that harm me and separate me from the reality of loving and being loved has been a helpful step for me in establishing protections against vulnerability to getting into these head/heart spaces where I am not feeling so good about myself. 

That is the mirror of a particular world – one which I don’t have much interest in existing within. 

August 23 

Yesterday, I had the interesting experience of completely crashing out after work. I was tired, from staying up and connecting, which was important and enlivening to my spirit, and so it didn’t matter that my body was tired. I felt good in my mind and in my spirit. I wasn’t exactly on fire about work, and the things I needed to do for work, but I was able to do them, and didn’t experience distress in doing them. I knew, however, that my energy was elsewhere, or just quiet – a little disconnected from the vibe of urgency and excitement amongst my coworkers relating to spaces and grants. 

As I am thinking about this, reflecting on the somewhat peculiar experience of falling asleep so hard –  a clean, hard, sincerely tired sleep, a demanded rest – I am also considering the mechanics of energy and what sort of energy I might need to bring to my tasks – by ‘energy’ – in this case – I mean the openness and orientation to the action at hand, and the general body/mind state that results from whether or not I am in flow – which, here, means ‘present and engaged in the process one is participating in, not resistant, not generating of resistance feels in the body, but, light and present in what you are doing whatever it is, appreciative of and open to being a part of the process.’

I think of the conveyor as an unceasing progression of compulsory activity and energy expenditure towards activities that one perceives must be completed due to 

  1. a) objective life-death necessity of activities that ensure basic physical survival needs are met

or b) perception of necessity rooted in values, beliefs

(related to ~>)

  1. c) threat of social or economic consequence 

The feeling of the conveyor – for me – is one of fatigue, physical and mental weariness, an awareness of ‘not wanting to’ that requires energy and focus-consuming assertion of openness and willingness in experience and ‘attitude’…requires practicing acceptance and gratitude for what is <~ very challenging sometimes. 

Related: an internal conflict in will and motivation, deep questioning about what the point is, ethical and practical concerns about complicit or misguided participation in things that a) conflict with my values, b) undermine my personal needs 

I’d like to reconceptualize the conveyor from a reductionist procession of tedium and depletion in accomplishing tasks throughout the day to an unfolding flow of present, engaged action that I learn and grow within…that I trust to be precisely what needs to be happening…

(^such a blaring voice in me about what utter b.s. this ‘trust what is’ sentiment truly is sometimes, when atrocities unfold.) 

Nonetheless, in my life, nothing that is happening to me is remotely terrible, and most of it is fairly wonderful – actually amazing – and…so, I want to be able to enjoy all of what I am doing, because it is what I am doing…?

…but, sometimes it feels like a conveyor, the tasks and deadlines and errands…and I have to wonder why I am doing all this? 

The motivation/impelling force comes from love and commitment to people I love and to maintenance of life as we know it, and the need to earn wages to maintain (and “improve”)* life as we know it, and to be able to adequately demonstrate my love and commitment to people I love through the language of quality groceries and provision of material goods which represent “taking care of” and “caring about” in a capitalist culture and social economy. 

*The way “improve” shows up in my head is in ‘making the house nicer’ and ‘earning more money’ – the de jure American capitalist synonymization of improvement with wealth accrual, having a nicer house, better stuff…but, what I really think ‘improvement’ might be is more along the lines of laughing more, and everybody getting to be who they are, and not being stressed out and tired and pulled in a lot of different directions. 

 

2 thoughts on “Well…

  1. 09/14/2019
It’s September 14th, which is a day in the stretch of days which were the unfolding of ‘the last time I got sent to the hospital’ 9 years ago.
There was a full moon last night, and 9 is a lucky number for me, per the 3×3.
I made the choice to submit a proposal for prAna’s Day Job to Dream Job contest, which is the latest in my ongoing series of efforts to secure a foothold in shifting my life’s direction.
I understand that it’s somewhat doubtful that I would win 100k to support me in developing my work, but I felt a clarity around trying, and the process of creating and submitting the project was a very positive one.
My working on the project and taking it seriously, and actually reading the rules and giving it the best shot I could in the time frame I had to work with, being the person I am, was super powerful to me.
It was worth doing, even if I am not the “winner.”
I’ve had some thoughts related to this opportunity and anticipate that as I depart from these mountains in a few weeks to go and meet my friend in the desert, I will have experiences that I want to take note of.
    This morning, it seems like maybe a good idea to have a spot in the midst of all this to post some thoughts about this interesting period of time as I consider my future directions and move out into the world in some new ways.
It’s been a long time since I traveled, even though I used to move about quite freely.
I don’t know what will happen next, but I am excited about finding out.
I feel curious and engaged in my life and that is a good way to feel.
Here are some thoughts from this morning:



    On Sep 14, 2019, at 11:22 AM, wrote:

    So, this morning, getting ready to go over to a recovery rally by a lake after a protracted decision making process re: whether I would go to this rally, whether that was where I needed to put my energy, and some recognition that it will probably be chill, and that I do feel like I a recovery rally is not entirely a bad place to be on today, the 9th anniversary of the hospital time…getting ready to go, and texting with my friend who misses me and whom I miss, noticing that my room is a little messy after working on creative projects through the week and also doing a lot of wage-earning activity, I had this sudden clarity of thought that if I had 100k to work with, I’d want to set aside some of the capital gained from endeavors that those monies fund, or even take a chunk of it to start a small fund/develop a foundation that would help me to be able to share opportunity with other people.

    Man, a little bit of funding would be a game changer.

    I feel like it is my responsibility as a person who has relative privilege -> access to social and economic capital enriching opportunities that other people might not have because of cultural structures that disallow equal access and opportunity dependent on factors such as race, gender, perceived ‘normativity’ across a few different measures, opportunities to learn the social norms and codes of asset-holding classes, etc. to use my work to help to create equity in opportunity.

    I think it’d be amazing to be able to give people money to explore and develop their heart-fire work. I think part of the many jobs that would be my dream job would be to help other people have a shot at walking away from the conveyor and developing work that uplifts them in their gifts toward the potential betterment of the world in some way.

    09/15
    Other thoughts that have shown up:

    I have read over this post, written after I’d had a couple of rough weeks of scarce time and a lot of responsibility with emotional stressors…and I think about this issue of ‘needing it to be okay to not show up’ and what that means. I want to be able to show up for the things that are most important to me, and I can’t show up for everything. If I exhaust myself showing up for things that are depleting or counter to needs, then my ability to show up for what matters is compromised…and that puts me in a really rough position. So, my aim is to reduce the number of depleting things I have to show up for, so that I can focus my energy and time on the things that are really vital for me to show up for, in the sense that showing up for them nurtures my vitality in ways that are beneficial within my life and the lives my life intersects with.

    I’ve thought also about my identification of being in places where people are being harmed as a trigger. I think it’s normal and natural to experience a basic human response to witnessing harm, especially if one is open-hearted. I am not wary of or avoidant of places where harm is occurring. I have worked with and been in community with harm-vulnerable folks for my entire young adult and adult life. I have been witness to a lot of intensely raw life-death experiences and have been integrally involved in supporting people in living through some terrible thing that was happening as the moments unfold. I *want* to go to places that are wounded. I *want* to be a part of helping people who are suffering.

    The other day, I went back to the church from which the organization I work for has moved on from, moved to a non-descript office building with brutal fluorescent lights. I’d been working in the church since January, and have a sense of relationship with the place, home-fullness with the place. It is familiar to me. I know it’s vibes and it’s corners, the sounds and smells of it. It knows me, or at least the people that comprise the place, that breathe life into it and show it their wounds and spill their coffee and make the breakfasts for the people to sit down and eat, it knows me, they know me. I was happy to sit in the sun and talk for a few minutes.

    Those conversations would be good to write down while they are still clear.

    His name was the same name of her friend, and it felt good to call it out over as she approached the walkway and the entrance, everlasting mulch and flowers project still scattered along the concrete and brick, red-hued chunks of gnawed-up tree strewn on the ground like blood or splashed like water. It felt good to call out his name and to approach, to go through the ritual of dismissing beauty and bestowing it. “Well,” the man with a bucket hat and a sunburn, oily rebel flag on his bicep, a heart that said in stock-poke letters, GRANDMA, glasses like a reader, owlish and like a possum all at the same time, “it sure has been hard to be deprived of your beauty and smiling face.” He says it joking, like an overdone flirt, and she is dismissing even as the sentence ends. “Oh,” she embraces him as he pauses in shoveling the mulch out of the wheelbarrow. His arm is sweaty. She does not care. “You just got to look in the mirror to see beauty!” She speaks with her southern voice, the voice she grew up with. This is what they do, he flirts, she turns it around on him, calls him beautiful.

    They moved to sit on the brick wall that formed a wide planter along the exterior wall of the church sanctuary. Mulch was caught in the mortar lines and spilled over the fronds and leaves of the summer perennials. The planter was like a moat of earth against the church. The sun blared hot, and felt good against her face, watching the cats on Patton Ave while they said hello, taking in the bright spots of marigolds that spotted her eyes as she looked around. He asked her about a friend seeking clinical supervision hours, said ‘he wants to focus his work on, you know, people like around here, the people.” She pointed him in the direction of the ex exec director, community health worker education program. “Yeah, yeah, I’ve got his number.” She saw the man with the cane coming up the ramp to the entrance, waved and called hello, felt glad to see him approach, happy to see him.

    They spoke for a minute about the move, about them not being there anymore. Shared a report in which a person who was dangerously struggling ‘could have really used you. It would have been real good for you to be there, that’s what I was thinking, I wish Faith were here, you have a way with him, you calm him down.’

    [later, after visiting the artists working on the fresco, seeking a screwdriver, and smiling as she told them that their work was beautiful, smiling to be asked to sit for a portrait, out of the blue the artist asked her, a real artist, one of the ones painting the beautiful fresco of the people and humanity that is the place, that is all places, and settled on trying a Swiss Army knife to remove the tight screws that held the curtain rods in the empty office in place.]

    They stood by the stairs, metal business sign removed from wall propped on the chair. “I guess I got it all.” She laughed with no real sense of mirth.

    “What’s it like over there?” Asking about the new space, where the organization had moved to. He leaned on the thick newel post of the north stairs. The stairs led up and around the building, making a balcony that looks over the big vestibule, and then dropping back down to the first floor with stairs on the south side of room. It is a beautiful building, old and with walls painted green, floors made of wood, colored glass in the windows and a fresco of life emerging in the sanctuary, very few fluorescent lights.

    “It’s, you know,” she shrugged, “an office building. It has very little life.”

    “What are you going to do if someone comes in their all, you know?”

    All she can do is shrug. Half of her life can be summed in a shrug. “I don’t really know.”

    It is impossible to predict anything involving human beings with precise certainty.

    “You really are good here. You have a calming presence. I see that. You go into spaces that are, you know, chaotic and you just being there calms them down. You need to be around that. You can’t be in some office building.”

    She thought she understood him, but didn’t know what he was suggesting in saying that needed to be around that. Was he saying that she was drawn to suffering in some way, that she need to be around suffering, or was he saying that suffering needed her. Perhaps she was drawn to suffering because suffering needs her? She doesn’t know what this means, but she knows that it is true, that she walks toward suffering, and isn’t scared of it, can be calm in it, and hold space in it, and that when she is doing that, being present with suffering, co-experiencing it with those who are experiencing harm and fear, being a compassionate witness, she feels as though she is doing and being exactly what she needs to be doing and being in the world. She is present and clear, and she can feel herself alive and with her heart open and strong, focusing on light, bringing it up into her so that it can shine out from her eyes and see people.

    That was the part of the conversation that I wanted to remember, the man with the cane telling me that I calm people down, and considering that in relation to the work I do and why it is that being around harm is both a trigger and also a part of my core vocation as a human being that wants to understand suffering and how to best respond to it and that wants to bear witness to atrocity so that I will know that it exists and so that I may be a part of the world in that knowing, so that deeply wounded people and places, the reality of their existence, is a part of me, so that I am not holding myself separate in the privilege of not knowing, even though it is easier to not know.

    Witnessing harm has an impact on any human being, and it takes work to hold space, and to inhabit real calm in the midst of chaos and violence. Often, there is an aftermath, an increased stress vulnerability, a slip in resilience. In order to do the work I do, I have to have time to process and recuperate from the experience of witnessing harm. I can’t just hop right into a meeting that is totally unnecessary for me to be at under glaring g fluorescent lights and demands for entirely different modes of processing and communication with no transition time at all. That is not good for me. So it’s not like, oh, being around harm and legit dangerous people and witnessing people being harmed is a ‘trigger’ and so I avoid it. It’s like being around harm is a trigger in that it is a stressor. Nonetheless, it is also a part of my work and is a part of the work I am most called to do, which is basically to witness humanity and places and to experience my life.

    So, similar to the conundrum of not being able to show up for the things that matter because I have been exhausting myself with depleting wage-earning endeavors, in order for me to be able to really do my best work, and to really be present in my participation in situations that really do come down to life and death, I have to be able to have time to take care of myself and integrate, reconcile, and otherwise tend to stress-producing or traumatic experience in witnessing harm.

    It is human nature to be scared on some level, some basic physiological level, when frightening things are happening. It’s so weird though, when I am in situations where some real bad scene is unfolding, I feel completely without fear. It is part of my stress response, I think. I literally will calmly walk up to a person who is in the throes of a rageful agony and feel out how to connect with them, not even slightly thinking they are a threat to me. This is dumb, and probably has something to do with the ways I am exceptionally naive in regard to people and some aspects of reality.

    However, I think that something about me not being scared changes the situation, because I am not reactive to the person in this way that reinforces the awful shame of anger or disconnects me in defense and caution. I am not seeing them as a threat and so they cease to be a threat. That’s just not who they are to me. They might be a threat to the person they are angry with, but not toward me. Since I am not scared and not seeing them as a danger to me, I can see them for what’s really going on, the fear, the profound need for love and comfort, extreme grief, disgusted anger.

    I think most people who are in crisis just really want to be seen and heard, cared for and not shamed.

    Those were a lot of thoughts.

    I’m going to clean the kitchen now.

    more later.
*********

    • ^there are typos up there. Stock for stick, cats for cars, probably more. I write most of this on my phone and publish it as draft…

      Sept 16

      This morning I woke up and went to the y, as I do a lot of mornings. I always aim to get there at 5:30 when they open, but usually roll in at closer to 5:45. We get where we go when we get there, I guess. Usually, I’ll listen to the same few Deerhunter songs in a repeating row until my time on the elliptical treadmill is over. Lately, I’ve delved into an old Subhumans album to revisit uncompromising lyricism and driving angry guitar riffs. The Courtney Barnett song Charity, which I dedicate to myself again and again. Sonic Youth Dirty Boots. Freestyle Fellowship Bullies of the Da Block.

      This morning, I listened to a talk given by a friend at a RD Laing symposium held at Esalen. The topic was Shame and the Climate Emergency, and included the invitation to consider a time we really felt like we had failed as human beings, and although I could think of a lot of times I had failed, across a number of different life endeavors, but the thing that came most immediately to mind was the knowing that if I fail to do anything or say anything or be part in someway of the meaningful and purposeful response to the climate emergency, then I will perhaps have failed as a human being and as the person I am, and I will die knowing that I could’ve done more, that I could tried harder, that I had chosen convenience and comfort and anonymous social safety over my potential to be a powerful voice for change, reconciliation, healing, that I could be an effective agent of deep adaptation…

      My thinking that my work has something to do with being of service to the world in crisis at this unique moment in time is based on an inventory of my experiences and values. It is impossible to inventory these things objectively – but, I can look at indicators, hallmark experiences and evidence of values and see that the future of the planet and the animals and the trees and the oceans and humanity is important to me.

      I grew up in a place that became ‘developed’ throughout my childhood, and I had a keen fear of nuclear war, lived by a nuclear submarine base, watched land I loved and knew deeply get torn asunder. In 3rd grade I purchased a book on pollution for my father, because I knew that he was a park ranger and cared about the earth. I had a greenpeace poster on my wall in the 7th grade. My ‘mental health symptoms’ arose concurrently with the loss and development of the land I grew up on.

      I know now that I was grieving.

      I am thinking about how a friend of mine that I am in dialogue with is friends with a European Greenpeace organizer who works on strategy re: the climate emergency. I am thinking about ways that my desire to go to many different places to work with communities to learn more about resilience may dovetail with the need for there to be spaces where people can reckon with the climate reality.

      This morning, and I don’t want to forget this, I was walking to the jail to do the Monday group on 6w…

      (high risk offenders’, violent crimes, mostly young men of color, most all with substance use related to their crimes, all amazingly and deeply human, always happy to see us, and always surprising (though why should I be surprised) in the depth of their wisdom and the honesty with which they share of their experience. Today, we talked about learning to not see oneself as a failure, to learn to picture yourself as how you want to be, to make plans and to gradually learn new ways of being in one’s life. It was amazing…love those guys…)

      …and I had the thought, all the sudden, that it would be perfectly reasonable for me to devote my work to upholding the dignity of trees, and I looked up and there was a bald cypress, which is the tree whose tannins stained the water I learned to swim in, and there was a cedar, stretching up beside the courthouse, older than the building for sure, and there were the everyday boxwoods, which I first smelled here in these mountains, visiting my great-aunt as a child, the first time I saw mountains.

      Boxwoods smell like green and gold in the summertime, sweet and with a burnished edge, warm soft smell, almost hard to catch and yet so full when you do.

      September 17th

      It is so fascinating to me to watch the ways my life and direction are unfolding, the ways that circumstance and situations unplanned for cross my path with people that I learn from and grow with, gently open doors to whole possible worlds.

      This morning, I drove out to Big Ivy – waaaay out in the country on the north side of this county. As I was getting ready to leave town, I considered the project I submitted for that funding opportunity and listened to the radio. Nathaniel Rateliff growling about ‘haven’t worked hard enough’ – and I only caught those few lyrics and I wondered, ‘have I worked hard enough?’

      (Later: I have read the lyrics to the song and understand it to be a call to leave no stone unturned before giving up hope, and not a dismissal of one’s naive hubris or lack of cred in making a point or stating an aim, but at the time, I wondered about the project I’d submitted, considered a few frames I’d rethink, make stronger, maybe one that I’d leave out all together. ‘Is it hubris? This desire I have to want to contribute more, to think that I can, to really believe that I have what it takes to reach people and to be a part of creating change?” I felt a stir of doubt, went into the convenient store to get a drink from the Hindi man with the red dot and orange lines on his forehead, and I thought about the care he may take in applying these marks each morning, how they identify him and what that means to him. “Going to work?” He asks me. “Yeah, getting there,” I smiled a lopsided smile, indicating that I was perhaps not quite there yet, and possibly that I was uncertain that I wanted to go there, to work. “Where you work?” I began the process of paying for my purchase, putting the drink in my bag. “I work for an organization that does Recovery, helping people to get off substances, drugs, to have better lives.” The man smiled broadly, “That is good work.” “Yes,” I had to nod, waving away the receipt, “it is.”

      I am grateful to be able to do the work I do.

      In the car, the radio was playing Widespread Panic’s Timezones and I misheard some of the lyrics to hear the words ‘don’t look back on the things you said, keeps the angels from wrapping around you.’ And I can’t for the life of me figure out which lyrics, precisely, were heard to say this. When I listened to the song again this afternoon, after getting home from Big Ivy, I heard “don’t look back on the fears you shared.”

      At the moment, I heard the song in the way I heard it and took what I heard to mean that it is important that I believe that whatever I offered up is what ought to have been offered up, and that fear keeps ‘the angels’ from being near me and lifting me, wrapping around me to put me where, perhaps, I am needed.

      This morning, where circumstance and wage-earning commitment had put me was driving out to Big Ivy on a soft winding green lit road out into the valleys, churches and neat fences lining the road, clusters of trailers and a gas station/restaurant here and there, listening to the radio and believing in myself, that I really have worked hard enough, that things will start to open up for me, that here – in this season, years past other seasons – the work I have done will, with my help, begin to come to fruition.

      The listening sessions are part of a large grant the county got to reduce the jail population by 15 percent. “Let’s Talk Justice!” in the backroom of the community center where they have free markets every other week. I am the ‘Observer’ on the workgroup, the detailed notetaker, the one that sits in the back of the room and listens, writes down as much of everything that is said as I can.

      The listening sessions are poorly attended, but people do come, to share their experiences with the justice system, identify problems and solutions.

      It’s an amazing process to witness, these people that demographically could be described as ‘country people’ talking about justice and their ideas about what needs to change.

      “We gotta go way back to where the system was set up in 1776 or further, we gotta go back to that we were built on free slave labor, and fugitive slave laws, and the history of policing, and the ways wealth is tied into that.”

      “As far as prejudice is concerned – it’s not just against minorities, or religion – there is a lot of prejudice against substance use and mental health, and if you look different, how you wear your clothes or how you wear your hair. There can be prejudice against a single mother with four children. Someone told me sometime to not bring up a problem without bringing up a solution, but I don’t know what the solution is. I don’t know how you change those things. Its a mindset. In the past 30 years in our area, it has changed some.”

      It’s so inspiring to hear the thoughts and ideas of everyday people out in the middle of nowhere.

      One of the facilitators in the workgroup is the former Director of Peace and Reconciliation for a large international faith-based humanitarian aid organization and worked for years in the Sudan doing tribal conflict reconciliation work.

      It blows my mind that this workgroup I joined because the organization I work for needed someone to go has led me to be acquainted with people who have vast experience and wisdom about the things I am trying to learn more about and to get involved in – at least in some way. This isn’t to say that my aim is, explicitly, to do tribal conflict resolution work, but that I want to do peace and reconciliation work, and I want to learn to hold space for people to do this work together. There are so many conversations I want to have.

      I walked into the community center smiling big and for real because I was happy to be there, because I like places like that, most places…all places…I like to see people in their community spaces. I grew up in the south, in a semi-rural place, a place that – when I was a kid – wasn’t even on the map. So, it is comfortable and good for me to be in places with ‘country people.’ I know how to talk with ‘country people.’ I also worked in the center of an adjacent rural county for 8 years, and had to learn to talk with people who grew up on the sides of mountains and didn’t go to school hardly at all about things like the mechanics of trauma responses and how to identify and focus in on the sensations of hope, how to learn to be present and to find beauty.

      It’s like everything I have done in my life has been learning and growing. Teaching me and showing me what I need to know.

      The workgroup leader, who is the coordinator of the grant project, which is funded by one of the same organizations that funds NPR, smiled at me when I got there and I knew she was actually happy to see me and I recognized that I was happy to see her. “You! You do such a good job on those notes. It’s amazing! That is a real skill, I mean I would pay you to do that. For the county. To be able to capture what people say verbatim like that, all of it.”

      “Well, I did miss some things. It was a lot.”

      “It is a skill! Seriously, if you had an LLC, I’d contract with you.”

      “That’s awesome! I’m actually changing up my work role some to let me try to develop some other ways to offer service, some services. Maybe I will start an LLC?”

      The petite Resiliency educator lady who leads us all in belly breathing at the end of the session piped up, “Oh, it’s real easy!”

      As I am standing there thinking, people are moving in and out of the center, getting loaves of bread, greeting their neighbors.

      “Well, I really love doing that, trying to capture what happens in dialogue. It’s hard to capture the feeling of it without bringing my subjectivity into it, but I can get what people say, and notes on the process.” I laughed, “I’m a process geek. Totally.”

      I told the coordinator some about my learning about qualitative methodology and transformative social change, participatory research and we talked some about the importance of accounting for bias in reporting and I felt thoroughly good and thoroughly geeked out walking into the room and setting up my computer.

      [Later]
      I went into the meeting glad to talk with the people who run the organization upstairs. They are rad, wear a lot of purple. We talked some about group facilitation and I listened to a co-worker discuss his views on the topic. It was hard to suspend judgement, which was less a judgement and more an assessment of how new a person is to holding space. I mean, I came into facilitation work after being a part of groups for years and learning what not to do based off of some really poorly held groups and education spaces. Then I had a couple of years training as an adult educator, and then a couple of years training as an inquiry-based science and health educator, and a sex educator. Then I went through the crash course of learning about child and family team meetings, and worked at a Recovery Education center for 8 years where I facilitated at least two groups/classes a day, and coordinated/facilitated weekly radical mental health mutual aid groups for over 3 years.

      I mean, I have been doing this a long time, and if I am working with people that are still very much learning the art of holding space, I want to be in a position to mentor them and give them feedback on the ways that how they are approaching it might be shutting people down and ultimately harming them. I think that if a person shows up to a space seeking connection and ends up feeling alienated or held captive to someone’s agenda or silenced…that can be harmful.

      I don’t want to be complicit in shitty groups and have to be in a position where I can’t offer feedback because people’s ego fragility is caught up in things or they are not in a space to receive feedback. If I had arrangements where it was understood that I respect them and uphold their growth process and can share ways that I have bungled the holding of space and have caused harm, and there were the possibility of open dialogue with defense and without shame, a humble co-learning dynamic…well, that would be awesome.

      However, if those aspects of learning from and with one another are not present in the practices and culture of an organization, then people are not supported in having those conversations.

      People inevitably learn, often by trial and error.

      Tonight, I may go to a facilitators group held by the organization upstairs. It’s held in a building that I have strange history with, a building I spent time in during the summer and fall of 2011, a few other brief eras…cluttered with assemblage and investments, and held by an intentional communitarian. It’s a historic building, a lovely space. I think I want to go to the group.

      Well, I didn’t go to the facilitators group, because I was on a call that ran long, and I feel pretty at peace around that. I am learning to trust that things will unfold as they ought to, given that I do what’s mine to do, show up and be present for what’s important. In the course of the call, there were convergences between movements identified and a discussion of praxis and ethics, transformative accountability.

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