Thoughts on Arriving

We are all in the messy middle of something. The whole idea that at some point, we “arrive” is bunk. Every single time the GPS says, “You have arrived,” this occurs to me.

But in a deeper sense, it’s psychically difficult to live inside of a culture that prizes striving, acquisition, and material gain.

A culture with some of the highest rates of addiction in the world. A culture of mass shootings, massive disconnect, and off-the-hook isolation and anxiety. No wonder.

Yesterday in the car, I was telling Mani that I’ve been having a bit of an existential crisis. But it isn’t actually a crisis at all. It’s a cycle.

I named something, which was helpful: My introvertedness, for whatever reason, has resurfaced.

The last two times I’ve done an MBTI assessment, the E/I, or extrovert/introvert, has come out 50/50. Not 49/51 even, people. I play both sides of the fence. I know the rules.

But. It’s not a game.

It’s real life. And because we live in a culture that also favors qualities associated more with being extroverted — outgoing, enthusiastic, conversational — when my strong introverted nature comes out in full force — internal, quieter, more feeling, harder to articulate — I get scared at first.

In the distant past of my life — though as we know, the past is often right here, riding shotgun — having a sense that something big was going on in me was something to fear. Intuitively, I knew that whatever this thing was, it would burn my life down.

And I was right about that.

I am learning that to trust — I was going to say “again,” but maybe in some ways it’s new, a kind of spiraling first — is a process.

Moments, periods, of a quieter way of being, of feeling into myself rather than creating and connecting as much outwardly, are not signs of dysfunction, denial, or depression but rather deeply crucial periods of being and becoming.

I was driving to synagogue with Aviva Friday. Stopped at a red light on the corner of Main and Triangle streets, with Emily Dickinson’s house on the right, I jokingly said to her, “V, I’m having a moment.” She looked at me quizzically, so I explained, “I’m not sure what I’m doing with my life.”

Without missing a beat, she replied, “You’re doing this.”

You know what? I felt instantly better.

“Oh! This is a good thing to be doing,” I laughed.

I’m doing this. I’m being this. I’m sitting here. I’m listening to my doggie snore. I’m drinking coffee while the household stills sleeps on a Sunday morning. I’m listening to the quiet.

You do not have to have a grand plan.

Being quiet does not mean you’re not an exciting person. Besides, excitement can be highly overrated.

I have had times when I really did feel like I had “arrived.” That’s all fine and good. The problem is, it’s not a one-time thing. So if you live expecting it to be, you are going to be freaked the fuck out next time you’re once again somewhere between that arrival and the next one.

No wonder I was at one time so drawn to Zen.

Judaism, too, understands this. Sukkot, the harvest festival that immediately follows the High Holidays, is also called “the season (or time) of our joy.” We are supposed to be happy.

Our rabbi offered such a wonderful explanation of this on Friday night. He described how the rabbis — the old ones, the ones we read and wrestle with today — understood that happiness is a complex state or emotion.

On the one hand, it may be that we have arrived and are celebrating the accompanying sense of relief and fulfillment. On the other hand, and perhaps at the same time, happiness may be the more temporary kind, i.e. we are nomads, wandering the desert, but for tonight, we have this shelter under the stars. We don’t know where we’ll be tomorrow. How good it is to sit here together, for now.

More than one thing can be true at a time. Capitalism isn’t big on this.

I dreamed last night somehow I’d gotten roped into selling expensive cars. I was tasked with writing a song-and-dance to offer potential customers. I put a lot into it and was proud of the few paragraphs I’d written when I went to show them to the men — yes, men — in charge.

A few minutes later, they handed me back a piece of paper that had been cut into the shape of a circle. It had a sentence or two on it, and none of the original language I’d given them.

They didn’t care about being honest or real. They just cared about selling cars.

I care more about being honest and real than I do about selling cars. Or spots in my groups. Or coaching sessions.

Probably one of the fears I’m working through is that being honest and real is incongruous with the kind of success we’re so conditioned to think is the good kind.

What if success is not a thing we achieve? What if being honest and real is not a handicap, but a pillar in what David Whyte calls the “house of belonging”?

I write because it’s how I find myself. Not to make money, not to get clients, not to fill groups, not to look good. I write because it’s one of the surest ways I have of trying to locate myself.

And you know what? I am always right here. Even when I fear my soul has detached from my body and floated off into the ether, here it is. Here I am. Hineni.

It’s ok to be quiet. You do not have to measure the distance between islands. You get to leave some pages blank between chapters. It’s your trip. Your book. Your life.

So live. You have arrived.

While Listening to Adagio for Strings by Samuel Barbour

I’m listening to a crushingly beautiful piece of music.* I have two tamales in the oven and that’s not a euphemism. I misspelled euphemism (with an “a”) and used autocorrect to fix it. Chalupa, having just scarfed down lunch, is quietly gnawing on some chew toys in her bed. Mani’s at the dentist. The windows are open and it’s a cool, comfortable temperature. Earlier, I also had my teeth cleaned. I rode my bike a little under 10 miles.

I’m enjoying the bike riding; there’s something so spacious about it, especially the longer flat stretches of farmland where I find my thoughts can lengthen.

In many ways, I’m feeling quiet lately. I’m learning that quieter doesn’t mean less fired up, less devoted, less effective, less of service. It’s interesting to note that that’s even an assumption I’d make, but not surprising, I suppose. After all, we’re told to make noise, to speak up, to stand up, to rise up. But how? We all meet life in such unique ways.

I just got up to check my tamales. They’re not ready. Now I’m listening to Eric Satie. I loved playing these pieces so long ago — the gymnopedies and gnossiennes. (Spellcheck can’t save me now, but I’m not going to bother looking these up.)

Playing piano was, in the past, one of the ways I spent time with myself. Alone time, connected time, slow time, introspective time, quiet time, meditative time, feeling time. Now that my piano lives over at my parents’ house and we have an electronic keyboard, I rarely sit down to play. I say it’s “just not the same,” but wonder if perhaps I should try again.

This is very similar to what I’m finding on these bike rides: Solace, space, quiet, a kind of freedom and also a sense of relief. Oh, there you are. 

Last I did a Meyer’s Briggs assessment, my I (introvert) and E (extrovert) were exactly 50/50, so it’s not surprising that both qualities are strong in me. Lately, I’ve been craving connection AND solitude in equal measure. It seems contradictory and maybe even confusing, but I’m not trying to figure it out. Instead, I’m interested in listening, noticing where there’s fear (what if I’m feeling more social than my spouse?), and keeping lines of communication open both internally and with the people in my life.

I do find, again and again, that the latter leads to conversations that deepen relationships. The only truly detrimental thing is shutting down, though i recognize that sometimes, a person needs to give themselves room for that, too. We’re so damn quick to judge ourselves and each other. More than anything, I want to create space between myself and the judgment.

* * *

Many hours have passed since I started writing this. It’s a little before 6:00pm now, and I just finished eating an early dinner. If I didn’t know better, I’d wonder if I was pregnant what with the tired and the hungry lately. I scroll through Facebook and see lots of people’s kids graduating — from preschool, from middle school, from high school, from college. My own son will graduate from sixth grade next week. It’s definitely one of those leaving-the-nest moments.

I’m also seeing babies being literally taken from their parents’ arms.

It’s easy to think: Who am I to be quiet when we’re witnessing human rights atrocities on a daily basis in our own country?

Again, quiet and caring, quiet and enraged, self-care and resistance — these are not mutually exclusive. And it’s that exact kind of binary, either/or, all or nothing thinking that keeps us paralyzed, focused more on self-judgment or self-righteousness than on actual care, for ourselves or anyone else, close or distant.

How do we keep each other?

Today, I had a throw-in-the-towel moment. I heard that Trump has been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. We were so flabbergasted that we checked to see if it was real news, and it was. I said to Mani, “I’m at a point where I’m thinking we need to protect the most vulnerable, focus on community building and calling things by their true names, and giving up any last shreds of hope that the two-party system can save us.”

I do believe in voting. I want to believe in the democratic process. And I also know that the democratic process has kicked a lot of people to the curb for centuries — hardly democratic when you look right at it.

This doesn’t feel quiet; I feel myself getting worked up and my soapbox is not what the world needs from me.

So what does the world need from me? What does the world need from you?

Courage. Humility. Intense reckoning with the ways we’ve internalized oppression and where we’ve been the oppressor. Fierce love and ever fiercer awareness that not everyone has the same cushions, or any cushions for that matter — from literally soft places to land at the end of the day to the emotional, mental, and material support required to live in a world that makes you fight to prove your humanity.

Ranty.

From quiet to ranty in a few hundred words.

And so I come back to the boring parts. Everyday life is always happening. I know how hard it is to stay alert — and trying to stay alert 24/7 will fry your nervous system and make you sick. I’m rarely this blunt, but I will say this: Don’t do it. We need you well. We need you here. I need you.

And I need myself intact, too. I cannot be of any use if I’m always “on,” nor can I check out and go live in a cave. I’m not sure I believe in balance, but I do believe in dichotomies and that we — we quirky, needy, messy, loving, scared, angry, sad, funny, ordinary humans — embody many things at once.

I’m not sure if that’s a logical place to wrap up this ramble, but it will have to do.

* Gratitude to Jennifer Sekella, a member of my Get Your Muse On group. Today, instead of offering a prompt as I usually do on Wednesdays, I asked folks to share one of their own — a kind of “leave a prompt, take a prompt” exercise. Jen wrote: “I used to always have my students listen to Adagio for Strings by Samuel Barbour. They’d write the images, thoughts, feelings that arose and then write a story, poem, or the like from their reactions.”