A few years ago, in the middle of the most heated, long-simmering, agonizing public situation I’ve ever been party to, a woman lobbed this doozy at me: 

You aren’t God, you know.

My initial response skewed heavy toward the snark (in my own head… or more accurately, much later in the shower—which is where I generate my best after-the-fact-comebacks): Whew! Thank God. My to-do list just got a helluva lot more manageable then.  

Then I moved quickly into full scale-character assassination (hers, not mine—and still, fortunately, in my own head). 

But, here I am, years after the fact… and it’ll pop back into my head: you’re not God, you know. It happens kind of randomly. But, honestly, most often when I’m writing. 

And then, once I’m all aboard that train, I think about my second favorite barb tossed to me by the mom with a daughter the same age as mine: Oh, yes, Jane your perfect child.

Huh. Well, that sarcasm smarts a bit.

Look, I’d love to dismiss both comments with an tsunami sized eye roll. But I can’t do that… because BOOM! They just show up in my head unannounced. Then, I feel like I need to make those little barbs some tea and invite them for a little chit-chat. Because clearly I’m supposed to do something with both these comments—neither of which were meant to be kind. 

I subscribe to two schools of thought:

  1. Everyone is my teacher. 
  2. I’m not going to take wholesale criticism from someone I wouldn’t ask for advice. 

Which really is to say that I don’t have a neat answer to this, even thought I’ve spun it round & round in my head. I do know that I’m an external processor… and that I’ve already processed things (for the most part) by the time I share them in writing. The people closest to me see the messy process. And maybe I should be more transparent that things aren’t always easy, and right & wrong isn’t always apparent. Not everything is as packaged to perfect proportions as my essays can seem to be. 

My writing isn’t messier because—to me—that feels like oversharing instead of vulnerability. I can admit when I fucked up. I can share hurt, loss, and fear. But only if there’s a take away—even if it’s as simple as acknowledging that we are all in this chaotic, messy, beautiful life together.

I write because I’m a huge proponent of the power of story. 

But, y’all … stories have an arc. 

When all I’m doing is dumping despair or anger or hopelessness all over the page—which is sometimes the case—I never hit publish. Because what I want to put into the world is hope (even in the midst of despair), love (even in loss or change or a fuck up of epic proportions), and a genuine joy and curiosity about the world. 

I don’t know why the refrain about not being God keeps jumping in my head. But I do know that it’s humbling—and that seems like reason enough to keep it top of mind on occasion. 

As for Jane not being perfect, well.. I take issue with that one. Jane IS perfect. All kids are perfect, just the way they are. It us, as parents, that sometimes fall short. Myself included. 

Because I’m not God, you know. 

Belonging

Late Sunday afternoon, one of my favorite customers popped into the bookstore to grab a book she’d put on hold. She’s one of those people who radiates down-to-earth, good energy. She’s a joy to be around. In fact, when I’m around her, I feel like I belong.

That’s a pretty radical, earth-shifting gift: to make people feel a sense of belonging when you hardly know them. To do that requires being deeply centered in who you are, so you can allow people the space to be who they are.

It’s what Glennon Doyle calls being both free and held… at the same time.

It’s love.

I have no problem loving the people close to me. It gets trickier the farther I move out in concentric circles… to the people who the people I love love and the people those people love… and so on and so on and so on…

It gets harder because we like to belong. But to belong, sometimes we have to make sure other people know they don’t belong. And that not-belonging has dire consequences for people. Sometimes fatal consequences.

Even in spaces that should be inclusive, we’re hellbent on excluding some people. Onjali Rauf, for instance, wrote a lovely middle grades book about a refugee boy in England and the lengths his new friends go to to understand him and help reunite him with his family. It’s a book all about inclusion and acceptance, one that points out that bigotry is born out of fear of what is different.

Amazing, right?

The very same author penned an address at a women’s conference who’s sole focus was to question the identity of trans women and to argue that they should not be included in women-only spaces.

What the fuck?

But let’s go back to that brilliant, light-bringing customer of mine. As we chatted about a variety of different things–both mundane & spiritual–we touched on how fraught every single action is during this pandemic. And how, even when you’re trying to make good choices, people are incredibly apt to judge. In that context I quipped, “People can be so horrible sometimes.”

To which she replied, “I can be, too.”

And that’s really the crux of it. I can be, too.

So when I think about Onjali Rauf and her exclusionary speech, I have to remember that I said precisely the same things about trans women before I knew better.

It behooves me to remember where I came from. Just because other folks aren’t on the same place in their journey doesn’t mean they aren’t redeemable. In fact, as I was reading Rauf’s speech, I just kept thinking: does she even know any trans people? Because her entire speech reeks of the ignorance of not knowing. Of fear. Of the very thing she writes about overcoming in a book to teach kids about belonging and acceptance.

But fear can be overcome. It happens every single day. In fact, it’s one of the greatest miracles of being alive.

As a person in recovery, the truth is that I’ve done awful things in my addiction. Things borne of deep fear and deep pain. But I never have to be that person again. That’s redemption.

We’re all redeemable. But no one gets there by us insisting they don’t belong. In fact, we chip away at our own souls, our own sense of peace, balance, and well-being, every time we exclude someone. Or trick ourselves into forgetting the times we’ve fucked up, the hurt we’ve caused, the deep knowledge that we’re all profoundly flawed. And profoundly beautiful.

I can be, too.

Simple Wisdom

Just be where you’re at, right now.

I know this doesn’t sound particularly deep. But it’s 100% my mantra for today.

I am an all or nothing kind of girl. I don’t half-ass too much. Which can be good.

Or not.

Because, sometimes, that all-in-ness can translate into not paying attention to where I am right now. I make everything a referendum on my personality, my worthiness, my potential. Which means there’s little room to respond to current conditions–whatever those may be.

This idea of just being where I’m at right now popped up in yoga this morning (thanks, Adriene!). It helped me work through the fact that I was way bendier one one side than the other today (I like to be symmetrical, thankyouverymuch). A small thing, sure. But just being able to sense what my body needs, and to not see my current state as a limitation (or even a triumph) but just to let it be… it feels kind of revolutionary.

I’m a Virgo. We rarely just let things be.

The reminder to just be where I’m at also came in handy on my run–when my ankle went all janky and my joints literally felt like they were unhinged. Why? Who the hell knows? But it looked something like this:

Typically, I’d get all up in my feels (and WAY into my head) about what would happen if my ankle got pulled out of alignment because my hips were too tight and then my foot got all janky and I couldn’t to to the chiropractor because COVID and then my leg got so off-balance and tight and out of whack that I couldn’t run and then I’d be all mentally out of balance and sad and not nice and then maybe no one would like me anymore.

Right.

And that started to happen. It did. But then I remembered: just be where you’re at, right now. So, instead of that shitshow of a mental spiral, I just kind of shrugged.

My body feels a little weird, right now. So right now, I’m going to take it easy. Because that’s what I need. Not forever. Maybe not even tomorrow. Right now.

Instead of making myself miserable trying to power through this morning’s run at optimal speed, I slowed it down. And suddenly I realized there was a breeze. And that it was cool out–instead of hella swampy like it has been the past few days. I chose to be fully present in the moment–and the moment was beautiful, even if it wasn’t the run I’d planned out.

Just be where you’re at, right now.

Just be.

Mantras & Tea Time

I’ve got a long-standing habit of trying to scuttle away from fear.

Can you really blame me? Fear–intense, soul-chilling fear–has been part of my world since I was 8 years old. And lots of times, I don’t even know what I’m afraid of. I just know that I’m scared as hell.

Portrait of a Fear-Scuttler as a Young Girl

To cope, I learned to shove the fear down. Way down. In psychic places that I tend to avoid completely.

For me, fear and anxiety aren’t the same thing. It’s likely they stem from a similar psychological source, I suppose. But they feel different. Anxiety feels sketchy, like I want to climb out of my skin–but I’m simultaneously too scared of life in general to move. It happens all at once. And it’s broad and far-reaching. I know what it is and can identify it. I pretty much hate it, but I know how to move through it.

This fear, though, it’s more stabbing. And it comes out of nowhere. If it was audible, it would be a horrified gasp. It’s quick and to the point. Which is why I can shove it away. It doesn’t linger and settle into a generalized malaise the way anxiety does.

So now that we’ve established this fear situation, I’ll tell you a story:

The 30-day yoga camp I signed up for with Adriene (after my brief failed venture to find more “spiritual” yoga) comes complete with mantras. Which is rad. My mind tends jump all over the place like a ferret in a popcorn maker, so anything that can focus my thinking a bit is welcome.

Today’s mantra: I embrace.

Y’all know the drill. You set an intention (using said mantra) at the beginning of the practice. Mine was “I embrace the vastness of my spiritual nature.”

Huh.

I have no idea where that came from. It popped into my mind & I ran with it.

So, there I am, meditating after yoga (because during yoga, I’m just breathing. That’s the beauty of it. I’m focused and breathing, connecting with something still and quiet at the core of who I am), and this fear pops up. And it stabs me once in the heart (it’s a bitch, and it knows how to wound).

Of course, my instinct was to push it away. You don’t really invite a bully to sit down to tea.

Except–you kind of do. Or, more aptly, it’s what the Buddha would do:

Even after the Buddha had become deeply revered throughout India, Mara [the demon god] continued to make unexpected appearances. The Buddha’s loyal attendant, Ananda, always on the lookout for any harm that might come to his teacher, would report with dismay that the “Evil One” had again returned.

Instead of ignoring Mara or driving him away, the Buddha would calmly acknowledge his presence, saying, “I see you, Mara.”

He would then invite him for tea and serve him as an honored guest. Offering Mara a cushion so that he could sit comfortably, the Buddha would fill two earthen cups with tea, place them on the low table between them, and only then take his own seat. Mara would stay for a while and then go, but throughout the Buddha remained free and undisturbed.

Tara Brach, Ph.D., Inviting Mara to Tea
Source: Mara Tempting Buddha

I’m going to be straight up and tell you that I did NOT invite my fear to tea. But I also didn’t chase it out with a pitchfork, either. I took a few tentative steps closer to it, though. I looked at it, not to probe into where it came from or why it was there. But just to see it. Just to embrace all of myself, all of my experience. Including the fear.

Maybe that’s what it means to embrace the vastness of my spiritual nature: to simply walk towards what arises, seeing it as a teacher instead of a threat.

I would’ve explored that further, but right then the dog nosed her way into the room and sat square on my lap and started licking my face. And then the kid came flying in to retrieve the dog–and Mara left on his own accord, because the whole scene as just too chaotic to bother with tea anyway.



Meandering Spirituality

I’ve spent most of my life trying to think things to death.

Maybe it’s because I’m a Virgo. Or because I’m a 1 on the Enneagram.

But most likely, it’s because thinking is not doing.

Doing has consequences–real, tangible things that are set in motion by my actions. Thinking… well, I’m not going to make any grand impact–on the outside world or my inner landscape–with just my mind. I’m not all wizardy-powerful like that.

An added benefit to thinking things to death: no one knows exactly what goes on in my mind but me. So there can be all kinds of fancy footwork in my head that allows me to never actually be wrong.

The trade off for never being wrong, though, was that nothing ever really touched my spirit. There was no trial-by-fire burning down of the psyche –so that something new and more beautiful could arise. There was just the constant building of what I thought were castles, but turned out to be hastily cobbled together shacks that wouldn’t withstand even the slightest tempestuous gust.

I spent a lot of time, for instance, intellectualizing spirituality. Now, there are lots of folks who talk about spirituality and religion of all varieties with an academic bent. I love that–the marriage of the mind and the spirit. But I was sacrificing my spirit–messily, bloodily, tragically–to keep my spirituality in my mind, where it couldn’t touch me and wouldn’t change me.

This is an odd tact for someone who’s been on a spiritual quest since fourth grade. In those 35 years or so, I’ve been a Christian (saved, resaved, was I saved enough?), an agnostic, a (super evangelical everyone is going to hell if they haven’t accepted Jesus as their savior RIGHT NOW) Christian, a very pissed off anti-Christian agnostic, a Wiccan, a Buddhist, a self-loathing Christian, a Buddhist again, a putting-up-with-too-much-bullshit-from-the-church Christian, and finally a Buddhist.

I mean, that’s a hell of a lot of questing.

And I used to be super-embarrassed about all this jumping about. But now, I’m kind of proud of it. Because each move (especially from self-loathing Christian to my current spiritual iteration) has been a result of getting really honest and addressing difficult truths. Not intellectual truths. Spiritual ones. Which have always been a bit more tricky for me.

When I got sober (at 33), I had to take a serious look at the God I’d constructed. And I had to ask myself, with life or death seriousness, if that was a God I could rely on, trust, open myself to.

Uh, no. Because that God was fiery. And brimstoney. And He may or may not smite me for the tiniest infraction. And He was probably going to take away the things that I loved most (because maybe, just maybe, I would love them more than I loved Him) just for sport.

Hell no.

So, I read a lot of Brennan Manning, and I reimagined a God who loved me more than I could begin to fathom. A God who wanted good things for me, who would guide me through the insanity and pain that could break out in every day life (but who would never smite me with any of those things). I reimagined God as refuge and love.

This reimagining could only get me so far, though. Because I never prayed. Thinking not doing, you see. I read. I imagined. But I did not commune. This beautiful (and I think true) version of God carried me through some incredibly painful times. But God remained “out there.”

I needed something inside my soul that was going to bring about the kind of sustained spiritual awakening that I’d heard folks talk about in AA. And to get that, I need to move beyond intellectualized, over-analyzed Christianity to a point where I could get real and invite into my innermost self something that could bring me to a point of wisdom, peace, enlightenment.

I had to get honest about the fact that the damage the church had caused me made picking up a Bible impossible. Approaching God from a Christian perspective was riddled with judgement and pain, and I couldn’t draw close to that God because my soul hid under self-protective numbness every time I tried.

And so, I stopped.

I stopped trying to make a belief system that had caused me untold agony work for me.

But this isn’t really about walking away. Not for me, at least (although some folks get real caught up in that). It’s more about what I’m walking toward.

I’m making my way toward a still pond with no ripples. A peace and knowing, a goodness, that has always lived inside of me. (That is inside of you, too). But that I can’t intellectualize. I have to practice stillness to access it, to unearth the compassion that’s part of my nature. Part of my being.

I am working on being still and knowing.

And that, for me, isn’t about thinking. It’s doing.

Even in stillness.

Meeting My Appropriate Edge

I can force things. Or I can chill the hell out, listen, and learn something. Lately, I’m opting more for the latter.

E7DEBAF5-36C7-4E89-8407-C04B2CBA32AC

This is me after I had “met my appropriate edge” on a run.

It was serious business (obviously).

Well, truthfully, the whole idea of meeting my appropriate edge IS kind of a BFD to me. And it’s become a touchstone of sorts as I move through the world.

In January, I did Yoga with Adriene 22 out of 31 days (which for a recovering perfectionist like me seems… fine, I guess. But, truly, part of me just wants to be like: Dude, you couldn’t have bucked up and done those extra 9 days?!?). Look, I’m just going to go ahead and admit that I’m a little taken with the whole Yoga with Adriene scene. I like a yogi who can say the kind of random, absurd things that run through my head OUT LOUD on a YouTube channel with millions of subscribers. She totally has convos with her dog while leading a yoga practice. She makes me laugh. And reminds me to be kind to myself. And that I don’t need to be perfect. I just need to acknowledge where I am right now, today, in this moment.

Anyway, she’s constantly saying  “meet your appropriate edge.” Which just bounces around in my head, even off the mat. It’s kind of brilliant. I mean, if she just told me to meet my edge, well, I’d have to take that as a challenge. Even though I know it’s not meant to be. But my appropriate edge changes from day to day. It allows for softening when I’m injured or feeling vulnerable and for pushing when I’m feeling vibrant, energetic, and ready for forward momentum.

Telling me to meet my appropriate edge implies an inherent trust that I know what that edge is. That I can trust myself.

This whole foot debacle has taught me a lot–about my body and myself. And, no, I didn’t ask to learn any of it. I’d rather have been running consistently, instead of in fits & starts. But, no one asked me before the Universe threw me this “learning opportunity.” So I’m making the best of it (and making a list of things to remember):

  1. 43 requires more care & maintenance of my body than 33 did. I can’t ignore the tightness in my hips and assume it will go away. It won’t. I can’t jet off for a run without stretching. I’ll really regret it later.
  2. Everything is connected, in running and in life. My foot pain? Caused by my hips. For real.
  3. Yoga, stretching, and listening to my body will keep me healthy and running.
  4. Stubbornness is over-rated.
  5. The negative, self-sacrificial messages I internalized about self-care as a kid were some bullshit. And they’ve got to go. To care for the people around me like I want to, I must care for myself. The two are inextricably linked.

Which means that, while I run, I’ve got to pay attention to what my body is saying. Of course, it always cusses on the hills (so do I. Like, for real, if you’re offended by cussing, EARMUFFS when I run by).

giphy

On the day of the serious-meeting-my-edge picture, I was relatively pain free until about 2 miles in. Then I could feel the muscles in my foot begin to tighten. By 2.25 miles, it hurt. Bad. Typically, I would’ve just pushed through. I would’ve been all grit and suffering and like-hell-I’m-gonna-quit-before-I-get-to-3-miles. But, this time, I just stopped. And there was some bizarrely glorious freedom in just letting myself be. 

I’m more trustworthy than I used to be. That’s what the idea of meeting my appropriate edge reminds me. I have intuition & insight–but I have to listen to myself, to my body, to my heart to access them.

In order to lead the BIG, joyous, fulfilling life that I want, I have to trust myself.

Meeting my appropriate edge that one day lead me to two more runs this week where my appropriate edge looked a lot more like this:

That feels like a pretty big win these days.