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.

“the dark places between the stars”

light

Sometimes when you put your hand into a hollow tree
you touch the dark places between the stars.

Robert Bly

I sit down in the living room. The overhead light is turned off, and the string of holiday lights around the perimeter where the walls meet the ceiling crate a soft glow. The holidays are over and the new year has begun. As a Jew, I observe two new years — one where I return to my soul by looking back over the year past and prepare my name for a blank page in the Book of Life, and the other when I climbs into the ferris wheel bucket, going up and up to the tippy top, where January perches on top of the world, waiting to start the descent to summer and ascent back to winter. It’s  a circle every time; some turns have felt wracked by threatening winds while others have been gentle.

Now, a week before I turn 42, I sit here looking out — at the living room, at the view from here. My children are with their father tonight — piano lessons and middle school homework, I imagine him snuggling with the younger of the two while the older one watches “Grey’s Anatomy” or listening to iTunes on headphones in her room.

I’ve been living all the way into each day, even as my wife and I work towards change and an eventual move to the ocean. Pacific Beach or thereabouts awaits us. We dream of grandchildren already. We don’t get sick of each other. Our contract is for love not to be work, but kindness, with plenty of space to just feel and be, not having to better ourselves. It’s a relief, frankly.

My body’s curves have become slightly softer in the past six months. Partly as a result of quitting smoking, no doubt, but there’s something else — a settling in, a relaxing. I’m finally learning how to take time off. How to rest without guilt. I’m working harder than I’ve ever worked in my life, and am happier, too — the work is my own, and the combination of not punching a clock with getting to make up rules and content as I go on my own terms suits me well. For the first time ever, I do not feel I have to prove myself or explain my choices.

Little makes me more fulfilled than baking something my kids will love eating. I’m more aware than ever that they’re no longer little, which also means they need me on their terms and not mine. Time together is not a given, and as much as–more than–ever, I don’t want to miss it. I’ve spent so much time coming to terms with decisions I made as a much younger woman, and the more distance I gain on the past, the more clearly I’m able to see  and understand what I denied in order to love the life I had–and why.

The first string of lights I bought this year to brighten up the living room in December burned out quickly. I exchanged them for new ones at Target, but it turned out the new string was twice as long as the first. For two weeks, a bundle of extra lights lay collecting dust on the floor; I kept meaning to get around to hammering in some nails around the doorway to the kitchen. Then one day last week, I walked into the living room to find the old glass water dispenser–the one I’d hauled home last summer from someone’s trash heap during a run– filled with light. My wife pointed out that it looked like something that would cost $94 from Anthropologie.

I asked my thirteen-year old if she’d thought of that. She had, indeed. It was lovely, just the kind of thing that could make a room feel beautiful instead of neglected.

And it reminds me tonight of the dark places between stars, a phrase that fills me with nighttime and spacious sky and desert dark and the beauty of not knowing. I sit here in the living room, the one where we are making into a home but that won’t be home forever, grateful for the quiet, the clicking of the keys, the time to listen to my own thoughts and see them unfurl across the page. Nothing will ever be the same, that much I know, as I reflect on something I read earlier in the evening, by a beautiful writer named Tracy Franz:

“So ichi-go ichi-e is not simply ‘pay attention to now.’ It is ‘pay attention to now and rest in the awareness of all that has come before, all of the causes and conditions that now culminate and come together in this present moment; notice that this moment, too, will pass.'”

This too will pass. This moment is the culmination of all of the moments before it. It rests on its very own now-ness, and as soon as I notice it, is already gone. Like breath on glass, get up close to the thing, and the thing is gone. But not always. Sometimes, I get close up to my child’s face after sleep has come, or my lover’s skin, and it is more real than ever, to be savored and memorized.

What comes tomorrow, I don’t know. Only that it will be its own time, and also a container for all that came before. What this means doesn’t matter, only that I will sleep in the dark spaces between, wake inside the hollow, and open my green eyes again, to something both known and new.