How to wake up in the middle of waking up

This morning I woke up in the middle of waking up.

I realized that I was making a series of definitive statements to myself, declarations about the state of my body and my relationship with the world. I was reconstructing my very identity for the day! The questions to which the statements appear to be answers were either understood, implied, or went by too fast to be noticed.

I have a bit of a headache. That’s unusual. That pain in my left arm that I got up to take care of in the middle of the night doesn’t hurt. The St. John’s Wort Oil I rubbed in must have worked.  My sinuses are less congested. That osteopathic treatment yesterday helped. I have a whole day to finish those two essays for my homework assignment. The uninterrupted hours are nervous-making. I’ve worked the Kabbalistic Universes to death figuring out how they relate to personal and social identity. What I’ve got is far too complicated. I just want to give this group what they need to know now. I want to leave out a bunch of the usual stuff but I’m afraid of over-simplifying it. That other piece – on my relationship with the unknown: I’ve hardly thought about it. The house is really cold this morning.

Then the cat jumped up on me, having noticed I was stirring. She roused me to get her breakfast, ending this bit of waking up in the middle of waking up.

I regularly sleep through this process in the morning when I wake from sleep. What is really going on here?! 

I am reconstituting a self that I recognize, and a life that I recognize. I am naming and rating various body sensations, and in the process making judgments about actions I’ve taken – in this case in the prior twenty-our hours. I am translating certain sensations into recognizable anxieties so readily that I now suspect that I have paired them habitually: only this white wine pairs with that fish. There’s a thing I have to get done, and it has to meet certain standards – of usefulness and clarity that are good enough, close enough to perfection. I am naming an anxiety that sets up my relationship for the whole day – this thing I gotta do, I don’t know how I’m gonna get it done. All this brings alive muscle memory, posture, ways of sitting/sitting out and walking towards/away that shape how I move through life.

There are a whole lot of unthought knowns operating here.

They underlie the process I have described, and they love statements. Subject. Object. Definitiveness indicated by the period at the end. Period. Distinctions. Judgments. Interpretations. And every one of them sets me up to go about my day assuming them to be reality.

I didn’t stop to question the validity of any of it. I didn’t stop to question what I was including or leaving out. I didn’t stop to question the meaning I assigned to a sensation or the judgement I paired with a thought.

Question? Introduce something curvy to slow my speedy process?

I didn’t pause to let in more information or to allow for possibility, until it occurred to me I’d better get right to the computer before these insights could sink unexamined back into unconsciousness.

Then I went into the kitchen and fed the cat.


Read more on other ways of Not Knowing: https://alifeofpractice.com/daily-practices/i-dont-knows-small-life-stopping-and-life-giving/

 

The morning after: a 21st century creation story

As I write and post this week, election results are unknown. Regardless of outcome, many challenges and opportunities await us. We will feel them with differing senses of urgency.

We wonder: are we, individually and collectively, up to what is being asked of us? 

Here’s why my answer is, unequivocally, YES.

YES, even though we are tired and may wisely “unplug” to recuperate.

YES, even though the work to come is demanding, daunting, and unending, and I tremble in my bones.

BECAUSE from our deepest roots we are fashioned to create, and to create together.

We create as effortlessly as we breathe, as continuously as our hearts beat. We are forever engaged in materializing our feelings, thoughts, and ideas, our hopes, expectations, visions, and fears.

We shape the material world with our hands and with their extensions, tools and technologies of all kinds. We put foods and spices together and call it cooking. We put words together and call it story-telling, or news, or nonsense, or poetry. We put wood and stone and metal together and call it building. There is no end to this.

Sometimes just walking around my local super-market, I am overwhelmed at the number of products to choose from. In a kitchen store, I find a new gadget and wonder if someone woke up in the middle of the night seized with excitement about designing a cutting tool that turns a zucchini or a beet into lovely spirals with which to top a salad or frittata.

We filter what we see: we perceive selectively. We fill in blanks. Early in life we use the material that has been given to us – the gifts and limitations of our parents as caregivers, the security or the chaos of our circumstances – to create a story, a life, in which we have as much safety as we can construct. We include, we distort, we omit. We write in heroes and villains, friends, allies, and enemies.

As we grow up, we continue to elaborate on these stories. We live them. We project them more or less onto whatever landscapes, encounters, and personalities make up our days.

These are our personal creation stories: our family origins.

The smaller, the more fixed our stories, the more we live in a trance state, a default state defined by habit, the less freedom we have.

The same is true of our cultural stories, our group identities, our biases, our views of what is “normal” speech, body language, and behavior.

When we are lucky – we can join this kind of tribe: we begin to wake up and see how our stories have become unconscious and self-perpetuating mechanisms that drive our lives and our communities. We begin to question our habitual ways of responding to the world. We wake up to the ways our personal and cultural stories have become prisons. We break out (commonly with the help of others who live their lives outside of our story), and tell a new – and often bigger one, with previously unimagined possibilities. And then we can change the institutions and systems built on those old stories, and create together for the common good.

We listen attentively to one another’s stories. We take them in. Together we cry, together we laugh.

Can you catch the scent of freedom here? get hold of the thread of what it might mean to be a conscious creator of your own life, an artist of your soul? a collaborative architect of your community? an awakening builder of our world?

We are a growing tribe, on the move and gaining strength.

So take heart. Offer comfort and kind words. Receive solace. Share the Kleenex around if need be, in grief or in relief. Let us strengthen our personal resolve and our shared humanity.

Then: take one step. Start anywhere:

There is no better morning to wake up. Today: question just one perspective, break just one habit, open to just one new possibility.

No better morning to make something whole in yourself.  Today: pick just one limitation that bugs you. Take your first few steps down a path that embraces both self-acceptance and self-improvement, so that this limitation is no longer an obstacle, just something that shapes you in a particular way, like a tree shaped by wind.

No better morning to practice. Today: be willing. Persist. Move with the movement of life.

No better moment to claim your place in the human tribe.


Photo credit: Up in Arms, by Linda Carmel, at Hillsborough Gallery of Arts, Hillsborough, NC

Museum Opening: Seize this teachable moment

Reflections on the opening of 

The National Museum of African American History and Culture

Whenever I turn away from a feeling, an interpersonal challenge, a piece of bad news, I throw away a teachable moment. Fear, anxiety, or even strong physical sensations can overcome my curiosity, warn me against crossing some threshold, and keep me from learning something that could change my life.

The first time I landed in a therapist’s office, I was in my early twenties and alarmed. I was alarmed by an unfamiliar pattern – yelling at my young children from morning until night, and at the explosive anger that fueled my outbursts yet never diminished.  I was enormously relieved to hear this was “a situational depression.”  A response to months of supporting my husband through one more exacerbation of a chronic illness. Trying to keep the kids quiet so he could rest. Relieved I was not pushed to explore my early childhood, which I was sure was full of demons. Relieved I need not yet face my sequestered terror of extinction, of being blown out like a candle in a breeze. I got out of that therapist’s office within six months, my view of myself and life intact. Relieved and none the wiser.

I had thrown away a teachable moment. Several decades passed until the effects of an accumulation of unexamined, misperceived, and misunderstood choices physically and emotionally felled me. I was exhausted.

All I really had left was the moment. And the moment. And the moment. One teachable moment after another. Moments that changed – and continue to change my life by showing me in great detail the gaps between my idealized view of myself, humanity, God/Reality, and how things are.

This means I am more awake to, more able to stop myself from demanding that you see, think, feel, behave like me, so I can be comfortable and safe. I am not immune to the impulse, and I don’t succeed every single time.

And  each time I do wake up, someone else gets closer to being who they are and realizing what they came into this world to do.

So it is with both trepidation and excitement that I hold this time as a teachable moment for me, for my people, for my kin, for the American people.
photo 2In three days, President Barak Obama will dedicate The National Museum of African American History and Culture in the heart of America’s political and cultural capital. This Museum presences and invites each one of us into the stories of the people whose enslavement and back-breaking labor lies unacknowledged yet unextinguished at the center of our national story, and whose music inspires us even as we fail to acknowledge the human spirit and suffering that gave voice to it.

Cracks are showing in the American body politic and psyche, showing up the gaps between our idealized view of ourselves and how things are. It is time to give up our false relief and any illusions that we are – or should be – “post-racial.”

It is time to examine, to perceive, to understand. It is time to study, reflect on, and engage with our full family history. Until we do, each one of us is shackled, and we continue to apply the whip to one another in ever more creative, merciless, and unnecessary ways.

The opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture offers us a teachable moment like no other. Please join me in offering prayers that we will collectively seize this moment to reckon with our full history and reconcile with our kin.


 

The Museum has invited organizations around the nation to link local events to the opening. You can search the Lift Your Voice a directory to find local events celebrating African American History and Culture in your hometown: https://nmaahc.si.edu/lift-every-voice