Nitty Gritty: 3 Pillars of Zen

This book is one I return to repeatedly. Partly for its clear message that, yes, enlightenment is possible for everyone. And partly because I find the discussion of how to meditate simple and refreshing.

But my favorite aspect of 3 Pillars of Zen is absolutely the personal anecdotes, transcribed and laid bare for the reader, of both dokusan (meeting with the teacher) and of the enlightenment experience itself.

Each time I re-read 3 Pillars of Zen, I uncover something new. So it goes, I suppose, with books that speak to us in a profoundly personal way. They seem to have an uncanny ability to morph & say exactly what we need to hear in the moment.

I appreciate the wide array of experience and personality of the subjects carefully chosen by Philip Kapleau: both Japanese and American, men and women, with varying (and relatable) back stories. As this reading unfolded for me, I found myself particularly amused by the Americans’ struggle with ego, which impacted their ability to grasp the simplicity of meditation, to be humble and open during dukosan, and to be patient (but still willing to work) to reach enlightenment.

It was disarming to be able to so clearly see the root of the the struggle of those zany Americans from the 50s & 60s (3 Pillars of Zen was published in 1965)… and then to (slowly) admit that some of those issues mirror my own. It was humbling–in a gentle way that allowed me to laugh at myself & release some of my take-myself-to-seriously-ness.

I also was keenly in tune with the book’s timeline this go-round. Some of the personal anecdotes of American zen practitioners begin unfolding, in Japan, in the 1950s. Maybe it’s because I finished Alas, Babylon recently, but I felt viscerally aware of how soon after the bombing of Nagasaki & Hiroshima the 1950s actually were. The willingness of Japanese zen masters to have any dealings with Americans at all made me re-evaluate my own perspective on the world around me–and left me feeling convicted about how long I’m willing to grasp at old wounds and how much more peace I might be able to bring into my own life with the practice of non-attachment.

When I want a clean slate, a fresh start, openness–I equate that feeling with painting all the walls white. All the walls in my house. All the walls in my soul.

This book paints all the walls white. Every time.

A Lesson in Letting Go (Remix)

Owning a small business during a pandemic is one lesson after another in letting shit go that I can’t control.

Most recent on the list: anger.

I’ve always been prone to grudges. I like to hold onto my anger, poke at it a bit, reignite it occasionally. But, honestly, that doesn’t serve me well. Never really has. Holding anger close takes a lot of energy. And, I find this pandemic exhausting, so I’m trying to keep as much energy for the good things as I can.

The details of the anger-inducing situation aren’t super important: there was an issue at the bookstore that cost me several (s-e-v-e-r-a-l) hundred dollars. The management company communicated nothing about the problem, or the solution they employed without my knowledge, to me. A charge–a big one– just showed up in my bill.

To be real clear: they did nothing that was not legally appropriate. But that doesn’t make it right.

As one might an expensive and incredibly frustrating situation, I got angry. And, increasingly, I felt pinned in and helpless to rectify what I saw as a grave injustice. So I got even more angry. To the point that every single time I thought about the situation, I could feel my entire body tingle with rage.

This had been going on for over a week.

Yesterday, my concerns and frustration were roundly dismissed by said management company.

And that was it.

I was done.

I opened Facebook Messenger, shot off a message to a friend that deals with the same shiftiness from the same folks and told him precisely how I felt, just because I knew he’d understand. And it always feels good to really be seen.

And then I paid the management company their money, and I let that shit go.

And although it was both emotionally & fiscally taxing to let go of that money, once I hit “send” on the payment, I felt so much more free.

I believe we invite in to our lives what we put out into the world. Anger invites more anger and frustration. Gratitude invites goodness and light. For real.

So, I choose to be grateful that the amazing friends and customers who donated to our GoFundMe for the HVAC raised enough to cover this additional cost, too. I’m grateful for our Bookshop store, which brings in extra revenue to help pay the bills (even these weird, unexpected ones). And I’m grateful for this bookstore that keeps me connected to my community and provides me a place to give & serve & love the folks around me.

And I choose to let all that other shit go.

Do I Need to Take Out a Billboard?

When the Universe wants to tell me something, it practically takes out a billboard.

Right now, there’s a flashing, Vegas-style “SURRENDER” billboard front and center in my psychic landscape. Which, incidentally, is a desert-scape. Even though I’ve never, not once, been to the desert.

I’ve been fighting a lot lately.

It’s exhausting.

I’ve been waging this intense internal war against outside factors I may or may not be able to change. This isn’t foreign territory to me. I’m kind of a control freak by nature. But I’ve gotten better, these past 11 years, at letting go.

It’s progress not perfection up in here.

But the past few days, I’ve just been mad. I’m mad at the pandemic. Mad at the landlord for the shop. Mad at myself for being mad.

By yesterday, I’d worked myself up into a frenzy (for about the third time this week. And it was only Tuesday). And I just wanted to sit in my own anger and self-righteousness.

So, I didn’t meditate. Didn’t do yoga. Didn’t run.

Because all those things would’ve helped. And I didn’t want help.

I was mad as hell, and I intended to stay that way.

And so I did.

Which sucked.

Then chose to engage with someone who always sets me off–always makes me feel less-than, like I’m competing to prove I’m smart enough and capable enough to be taken seriously by them.

Which is the stupidest thing ever.

But I fall into this trap every. time. I. engage. with. this. human.

By the time I was done with that conversation, I just wanted to come home, give away all my belongings, and paint all the rooms white.

And that’s what psychic surrender looks like for me, by the way: clean slate. All the rooms white. And spare. Open and airy.

So, I took a little scooter ride. Came home and did some yoga. And just let that shit go.

I talked to some friends last night–honestly, with no pretense. Admitted I was struggling. Which, you know, feels a little like defeat. I want to be all Zen. And I was the antithesis of Zen yesterday.

But so it goes.

And then, this morning, the Yoga Camp mantra was I Surrender.

Okay, Universe. I hear you.

When I first encountered the idea of surrender, I confused it with weakness, with giving up.

But surrender is about accepting what is. I have to stop fighting and take stock of the situation, so I can move forward with sure footing. Surrender is rest and peace in the middle of a complete an utter shitstorm of life being life.

And, for me, surrender is believing that the Universe has only my best interest at heart.

Only good, even when I don’t get my way.

Only good, even when things look dire.

Only good.

I surrender.

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.

Normal-Shmormal

Meeting with a new therapist is a bit like going on a first date–exciting, full of potential but hella unnerving. I’ve always been hell-bent on impressing my therapists with my great insight and wisdom. Which can make for an awkward therapist first-date.

Typically, I wait until I’m dangling on the precipice of a dramatic, jagged emotional abyss before I make a therapy appointment. I always think–against all odds–I can get all bootstrappy and handle it (whatever it is) on my own.

This particular time, just over a decade ago, it was infertility, crippling anxiety, and the sheer terror of navigating the full human range of emotions totally sober. So, you know, at least I was bringing a lot of material to work with.

I like to be prepared.

But even then, with all pressure and pain making it difficult to even breathe, I spent the first therapy session trying to convince the new therapist that I was completely normal.

How do I know about my unconscious master-plan to convince her of my expert level normalcy? Because she told me. Gently. She was a soft-talker. A careful question asker. I thought her overly-conciliatory tone and her constant encouraging affirmations were going to drive me bananas. Instead, they gave me a soft place to land.

She saved me from myself.

And she started by unravelling this whole “normal” bit.

From the time I was 8 years old, I’d been convinced that I was a complete weirdo freak. And that no one would love me if they really knew me. And, also, that I was completely irredeemable.

This made for a super-fun inner voice. The life of the party, really.

But this woman patiently listened and pulled at threads that seemed like they were attached to a different psychic sweater entirely, and yet… by the end… that restricting, suffocating sweater of “normalcy” lay destroyed at my feet.

It was like magic. But it wasn’t. It was hard work that her unwavering kindness and belief that I deserved better–even when I didn’t agree with her–made possible.

She pops into my mind sometimes when I’m doing yoga.

It’s okay if that seems weird. I’m not really caught up on the normal thing anymore.

And it always happens when I’m doing a heart-opening pose.

Yoga has been part of my path on and off since the darkest days of my active alcoholism. It was my toe-hold for the long, winding journey of pulling myself out of that hell. Those first yoga poses I learned allowed me to reconnect spirit to body, after a 6 month blackout (those 6 months really are totally lost to me, except for fragments here and there. And those fragments, honestly, I’d rather forget).

What finally pushed me into making that first, awkward therapy appointment with Dr. Soft-Talker was a heart-opening pose. I was doing yoga alone in a room, eyes glued to a video (I hadn’t quite tamped down my perfectionistic tendencies at that point. Progress not perfection, y’all). The soothing, rhythmic voice moved me into a pose that pushed my chest forward. Show the world your heart, he suggested from the screen of my laptop.

HELL no.

I physically couldn’t do it. I could not push my chest forward. I could not show anyone anything. Because there was so much ugliness, so much I hated inside. The fear was absolutely breath-snatching.

I sat down and cried at the sheer hopelessness of it all.

I found myself in the therapist’s office just a little while later. Being awkward. Totally avoid showing her my heart at all costs. She found it anyway. She was pretty damn good at her job.

And now, when I do heart-opening poses, which are some of my favorites, I can feel the love (for myself, humanity, the universe) open me to all the magic and beauty and tenderness in the world. And I feel such deep gratitude to this woman who believed that normal was bullshit and that I deserved more.

It’s been a process. Just like getting sober, healing and living a big, beautiful authentic life is a journey. Sometimes I’m good at it. Sometimes not so much. But I hang on to the lessons I’ve learned along the way. I build on them. And I keep trying.

New day. New try.

Namaste, y’all.

Love Doesn’t Need That Mess

I sat cross-legged on the floor, near enough to the other kids to look like part of the group. But, while they fidgeted and whispered, my attention remained rapt. Other kids felt mysterious to me; I never really got what they wanted me to say or do. Like maybe other kids had some sort of instruction manual, but mine–even though it should only have taken 4-6 weeks for delivery–was lost forever & now I was just going to wing it.

So far, it wasn’t going particularly well.

But adults: I knew how to be in their presence, knew what the expected responses were. In short: adults were easier. So I paid more attention to them.

So, now I sat dutifully on the tightly woven carpet of a Sunday school classroom, staring up at our teacher. It was just kind of in my nature to be bizarrely well behaved (and also, my mother’d put the fear of God in me about misbehaving in church). But also, even though I was only 7 or so, the kind of church we attended had already started drilling down on the “getting saved” bit.

Fires of hell? No, thank you. I was sure gonna pay attention to how to avoid all that mess.

But now, suddenly, the teacher started talking about dreams and waking up in the middle of the night. My ears pricked forward. Because I couldn’t ever remember a time I didn’t wake up with my heart frozen in terror, my feet pounding the floor to my parents’ bedroom before I even registered my first real, waking thought.

Maybe I’d get some solid advice on how to not be scared. Because adults know things, right? Or at least at that point I thought they did. (Now I know better.) Adults always seemed to have some secret key to universal knowledge that would magically unlock all the answers and make the world make sense. I could not wait to be one of them. An adult with answers. That was my aspirational goal. At 7.

Although I can’t remember this part super clearly, I’m pretty sure the teacher opened this whole conversation with the “Satan is tricky” motif. Fair enough. A universal antagonist.

But in these stories, Satan was always trying to get in. Actively. Not in a dual nature, we all have good-and-evil inside, choose wisely sort of way. Like in a monster who breathes sulfur, who can morph and change and trick you, so you always have to be on guard to fight as a warrior for Christ sort of way.

Let’s just be clear: that’s some scary shit.

But this man is going to tell me how to keep Satan at bay. At least I hope so. Because now I’m really scared.

“If you ever wake up in the middle of the night,” he continues on (and this should sound like a ghost story, but for all the world it doesn’t. It sounds more like practical advice, like how to escape your house in the case of fire), “and you see a loved one who has died standing in your room (here I thought of my great-grandmother, because she was literally the only person I knew who’d died at that point) and that loved one calls to you, do not go to them. It may actually be a demon calling you to them. Satan will try to get at you whatever way he can. He’ll even use the memory of people you love who have died.”

What. the. actual. fuck?!?

For years afterward–years–I was afraid I’d wake up in the middle of the night to see the visage of my great-grandmother bathed in moonlight beckoning me to her. And what if I wasn’t strong enough to resist? What if I was lured to her and spent eternity with the fires of hell raging around me because I’d made a mistake?

That’s a damn big ‘what if’ for a kid to carry around.

Not until I was an adult did I see clearly that fear is simply a way to rule over and control people. Love, real love, has nothing to do with fear. Love doesn’t need that mess. Not at all.

I wish I could go back and tell that 7 year old that the Universe is full of love for her. That she can find all the peace she needs right inside her own heart. And that one day, she’ll have no idea what God is–not at all. And that not-knowing will feel like such a gift, full of possibility and light.

But I’ll settle for telling a little bit of her story. Because that’s healing in its own right, too.

Seriously. Just Let Go.

I’m a well-documented recovering control freak. I love nothing more than a well-worn pattern, a comfortable sense of expectation. Spontaneity? Sure, as long as it’s carefully planned.

Just BEING is something I’ve been trying to perfect for a while now. (See what I did there? Because being is about the moment… and you can’t perfect… You get it. Right?) It is the simplest concept. And I find it unbelievably difficult.

As always, Jane has been instructive in this endeavor. The kid gets so damn far ahead of herself. We’ll be watching a movie together (one of her most favorite things) and she’ll be all: “You know what think we should do next Thursday?”

What the actual hell?!

So we’re constantly reminding her to stay where her feet are. I tease her all the time that she’s terrible at being. But I’m super clear where she gets it from. And I know I need the reminder as much as she does.

My need to plan and to control is fed by a deep fear of letting go.

I thought about having Let Go tattooed on the inside of my forearm. That’s the extent of my suckage at this particular endeavor. I need a constant reminder that I literally cannot avoid.

I do not come from a people who readily embrace the life/death/life cycle in relationships, ideas, identity. One of the boogeymen in my childhood was the idea that some event (shadowy, scary, full of doom) would happen and things would never be the same. They’d be ruined.

It’s taken 44 years, but I’m finally bringing to truly embrace the idea that nothing is ever the same.

Everything is temporary.

This whole concept used to horrify me. It somehow undermines my sense of justice that even things that are “good” and “right” can shift, change, and die deaths that–even thought they might be painful–are the beginning of something new.

Not being able to let go–clutching ideas and identity so tightly they become wrung out, lifeless–seriously impedes my ability to see clearly. It sticks people (myself included) in itty bitty boxes where they either begin to shrivel or begin building a wall so that I can’t see that they’re quietly dismantling the box all together.

Holding on tightly to something that’s ready to die (perceptions, beliefs, relationships) doesn’t stop the death. A tiny death that’s meant to be is going to happen with or without my blessing. But holding on means being cut myself off from the living, thrumming life force that allows great change and growth. That promises possibility instead of decay.

But if I let go, what will be left?

What if letting go allows the Universe to unfurl great magic on my behalf? What it gives people room to wake up to the beauty inside themselves and show me the things they’ve secreted away until they were safe enough to create?

What if letting go allows life to BE?

(You know you were thinking it anyway.)

A Fraction of a Damn

“To be ourselves causes us to be exiled by many others, and yet to comply with what others want causes us to be exiled from ourselves.”

Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Women Who Run With The Wolves

I’ve spent 11 years learning not to give a damn what other people think. It’s a work in progress, for sure. I’ve got a deep yearning to be liked by all the people. But likablity isn’t authenticity. And being likable doesn’t leave much to stand on when life starts roiling about being its usually wily self.

Once, when a friend faced a tough decision (the kind that makes sleep scarce and makes you re-examine your life and values), she sighed, “I wish I could just not care what other people think, like you do. But I’m not like that.”

Well shit. I’m not like that either. Not just naturally. And I’ve always envied the folks who seemed born waving their middle finger at the world, doing what they want, and to hell with the rest of ’em. But that’s never been my natural state.

What I am is wise enough to know that living my life in a way that made other people happy, seeking their approval and approbation, was killing me. Literally. I could not make the inner chorus of doubters and naysayers (who was made up primarily of outside voices I’d allowed to crash on my psychic couch & now they’d taken up permanent residence) shut the hell up, no matter what I did.

I’d do what I thought they wanted. Nope. Wasn’t enough. Or it was the wrong thing. I’d misunderstood the task, gone about it wrong, didn’t perform perfectly. The list went on and on and on. But it amounted to one thing: I wasn’t good enough & never would be.

And so, I drank to shut them up. And the price for their silence almost killed me.

That is some fuckery.

And so, I had to let it all go. Not because I’m valiant and brave and completely self-possessed. But because I wanted to live.

Rising from the ashes of being a yes-girl to my inner chorus took years (and some quality therapists). Because I’d stopped trusting myself long ago. I had to rediscover my voice through the cacophony. It took time to learn to trust myself again. Because first I had to excavate who I am from all that wreckage.

The work isn’t magic. I still get struck with that god-awful mixture of shame & fear that burns in my chest when I think I’ve done something that folks won’t like, something that will ultimately render me unlovable.

But fear’s a lying bastard. And I know it.

So, I sift through my the things that cloud my vision, dig down to that inner knowing, and listen. I wait until I know what the next right thing is. And then I do that.

And it isn’t that I don’t care what people think. Or that I’m never stung by their responses. It’s just that I care what I think more. Because the one person I can’t live, can’t breathe, if I’m exiled from is myself.

Photo by Kai Wenzel on Unsplash