At the end of my 30 year teaching career, I often dreamed of shoes. In these dreams, there were usually piles of shoes in some obscure place, old ruins in a post-apocalyptic world, or elegant mansions with hidden staircases and multi-doored corridors. There were random assortments of other people’s shoes, a great menagerie of shoes – which I would eventually sort, steal, borrow, or wear. Sometimes I wore only one shoe and the other foot went bare; sometimes I had a different shoe on each foot. There were complex situations with people involved and obstacles to overcome; therefore, the proper shoes were an absolute necessity. I felt anxious about taking them, or trying them at all. Occasionally, I had to be stealthy and decisive, swiftly choosing before it was too late. The shoes were just sitting there unused. It was clear that I had to do what I had to do.
Moccasins, stilettos, and high tops continued to visit my dreams for months. One day, I shared my dream with a friend, and I realized that the shoes held a divine message. It was time to walk around in someone else’s shoes. It was time to grow. It was time to strike out from the cozy life I had been living in the roles I had known for a very long time. Raising my sons and teaching high school English was coming to a close. My youngest child was near high school graduation. My career, while forever interesting, held little in the way of expanding my experience of the world. Tic Tock. I wasn’t getting any younger. I was weary of the rigidity and small-mindedness of this old role. I had simply become too wild for the conformity of the public schools. I was tired of trying to fit in. I never felt that I really did fit in, and my own shoes were worn through.
It was not a great stretch to imagine wearing new shoes in my awakened state. I had been privately dabbling in other worlds for awhile. But those other worlds did not pay the bills. I was a writer, but I wrote for free. I was a new painter, but come on. I spent years developing my spiritual path, but that knowledge felt so personal.
Today, I supplement my meager pension (retiring at age 55 has provided half of a full pension), with lots of new shoes. I paint at home and sell my art in a local gallery. I also enter my work in local artist exhibits. There are endless possibilities. I still keep a spiritual blog. I am an editor of a magazine for a spiritual community. I teach creative writing classes to adults. I tutor kids in their homes and coach individual novice writers. I can do all this because I am brave.
Today, I work 15 hours a week instead of 50. I just get by like I always have. I get to have lunch on my deck or take a walk on a whim. I can sit in my robe until I finally realize I want to get up. I get to be what I really am all day long. I don’t have to keep my self, my past, my beliefs, nor my language under wraps. I can say fuck whenever I wish and no one has to like it. I can put out an offering to the gods and cast runes or step barefoot onto the clover-laden lawn and call upon the earth’s energy.
Some days, I don’t wear any shoes at all.
In my younger years, from time to time, I would have a vision come to me. I would be standing in front of a giant frame of stretched canvas, larger than my own body, using a large paintbrush to make broad strokes across the expanse of white.
Never mind the metaphor here.
I would be zapped with inspiration to create something beautiful, something rich with soulful color, something big, and powerful.
Then I would go on with my day and think on it no more for a good long while. When the image returned, I might say out loud, “I have this urge to paint.”
My friend or my son might reply, “You mean, like, paint these walls?”
“No, like on a canvas.”
“Oh.” End of chat.
But then I got to a point in my mid-50’s when I decided to spend my one hundred dollars of birthday cash – Thank you Mom – at Michael’s craft store. I strolled down the aisle with my cart and filled it with brushes, a few tubes of primary colored paint, numerous small canvasses and a pack of canvas boards. No easel, no palette, no extras at all. I hauled it home, and that night, I sat down to paint this:
I gave one to my sister and one to my mom, and I was absolutely pleased as punch. For a woman in her 50’s to paint such whimsical 5×5 inch works of art with zero drawing and absolutely no prior classes was satisfying. I was just fine with my sister or mom chuckling at them, or even tossing it away. I did not give a damn if they approved. I approved, and that was enough.
Never mind the lack of any suitable gel coat to smooth its texture; never mind the fantastic lack of definition and the absurdly small canvas. It was the best time I had had alone with my sober self in…well…maybe ever.
For the one hour I took to create them, I felt alive. I felt fulfilled. I felt spiritual. I felt like maybe I was not such a bad person. I felt like I was more interesting and more interested in the world. I did not spend any moment of that hour wondering what other people were doing without me. I didn’t think about who I should invite over. I did not think about food. I was utterly consumed with the act of creation. My creation.
I could barely wait to paint something else. As soon as possible.
And that is how I made it through my very first year of being purposefully single. Turns out creativity is the whole deal when it comes to figuring out who you are as an individual, free of others, free of performances for the stage of another’s play.
Today, completely self-taught, I bring in a nice additional income painting for myself and others. The coolest part is that when I run out of supplies, of which there are so many now, I get a little itchy, like running out of cigarettes in the old days. It has been three and a half years of painting now, and I still cannot wait to get at it. Life gets in the way nowadays, and I have to pace myself. I have to stop painting so I can be there for others and maybe even shower and eat.
When I become afraid of being alone, being abandoned, being hurt, growing old and having no value – which is just what I do as a result of my traumatic past – I just picture myself painting some giant canvas, and I know I will be absolutely more than fine. Strangely, this thing has a life of its own. All I had to do was follow the subtle whispering call from beyond.
The greatest thing about resentment is its complete and utter devotion. We can count on it like an old, messy friend, the sort of friend that swears a lot but is undeniably intelligent so much of the time. My resentments are as reliable as mud in April, or mosquitoes in August. It is comforting to know that I will never lose my resentments until I say so. And even then, I can yank them right back any ol’ time I please.
There are a few reasons my darling resentments serve me so well.
First, I get to be right. I get to polish my ego-driven righteousness every single time someone reminds me of the bitter injustice, the cause for my wrath. I get to be a heroic martyr and a glory hound for one singular cause of the world, myself!
Secondly, I get to be funny. I can crack jokes at the expense of others, the wrong, selfish, immoral, very bad, pathetic, weak, cowardly worms of the earth. This laughter cake is frosted with superiority and Wow! It tastes good.
Third, I get to build armies of those willing to join my battle. Those numbers will get measured on the scales of justice too. The more people who will hate with me, the more I get to broil in the cauldron of pain, vengeance, and cruelty. With an extra dose of teamwork, we can hate like champions!
Indeed, having my resentments chained to my inner walls makes me feel powerful. And who in their right mind does not wish to feel such power? Especially if one has spent a lot of their lifetime feeling immensely disempowered.
Isn’t it true that my inky black coat of cynicism and disgust will protect me? Even if it does make me want to hurl and grind my teeth down to a grain of sand? Even if it justifies every self-destructive thing I’ve ever done? Even if it kills me?
When I look back at certain historical times of pleasure – be it joyful or just interesting, hopeful, or filled with vitality – I sometimes think to re-create this time. I may try to gather all the variables of that era and place them back together. I want it to be just like it was, for there was comfort and wonder in that time, and the nostalgia warms my heart!
Yet, I have learned that we cannot turn back the clock entirely. The same people with their individual qualities are no longer available. The old familiar setting would not be accessible. The earnestness with which we gathered cannot be replicated, nor forced. It had originally come to us as all unexpected wonders do – most naturally!
No, indeed, I cannot copy and paste then into now.
But wait! This does not have to be a tragedy. This memory is rich with soulful emotion, but there might be something I have not considered. It might be true that I have lost something beautiful. But it could also be true that something else just as lovely can still occur. Something different but just as good. Something strange and unexpected but equally wonderful. Something more in place of what seemed plenty. If I stop worshipping how it used to be, and I begin to imagine what else might form, what fits into the new version of myself, what fantastic possibilities exist, then I have awakened to a state of mind most precious to the way of the Tao.
The Tao asks us to roll with it, and by “it”, I mean nature. NATURE is always changing, evolving, transforming, and those most content with life will accept the shifts, upsets, and regrowth of our natural world. For it is not all that pleasant to sit around wishing things were the way they used to be. We can be grateful for the past, its beauty and its lessons, and still recognize that we are not meant to be static. We are meant to always be morphing. I will not be afraid. Surely, to have faith is to trust that change should not presume catastrophe, nor should we deny the power of change and the shape of potential improvement.
I am a cat lady.
I love the silent prowl of the cat. I love the nudging of their tiny face into my chest, the soft purr of their vibrating body against my belly, the way they sleep sitting up. Everything about a cat exemplifies “cool”. They don’t care too much about anything; therefore, their attention feels like a privilege. There is no desperation in a cat. I cannot imagine anything more admirable, really.
But my partner Bob has two dogs. And we all live together.
If I were not deeply in love with my partner, you and I would not be having this conversation. Fortunately and unlike me, or unfortunately as the case may be, my partner has a heart of gold. Giving up the dogs is absolutely not an option.
These dogs are exceptional because they are XXL dogs. Weighing 130 and 180 pounds, both tall enough to lay their snout on the dinner table, or meet me face to face when I lay in bed, or to pet their heads when we go for a walk – without stooping in the least.
Finnegan, the six year old Newfoundland, who is often compared to an adorable bear, or what I call the Great Plains Bison, drools buckets of slobber throughout the day and tends to vigorously shake his head due to ear issues, allowing his jowls to empty onto the walls, windows, floors, the highest cupboard, my clothes, and one time my plate. This fluid, sometimes gone unnoticed, will harden to the consistency of cement.
Griffin, the Great Pyrenees, is elegant and to my great relief, dry. Unfortunately, at four years of age, he has developed a relentless form of anxiety, particularly separation anxiety, and he will urinate or “mark” one of 100 locations in the home whenever we leave. He has not been kenneled, so the expert theory is that kenneling will at this point only make matters worse. Even leaving him locked in a single room will only generate a deeper, long-term nervosa.
Then there is the barking. Two massive beasts bellow simultaneously when a leaf falls from one of our many trees, when a car drives down the road on the other side of the neighborhood, when a child shouts at such a distance there is no way to know what they actually said. If I place my cup on the wooden table, a cacophony of fog horns ensues.
Every time they bound through the room, my body tenses, and sometimes, if I don’t see the bark coming, I will flinch and even gasp despite myself. My nerves are shot. Did I mention I am a cat lady?
The dogs are high maintenance. Because it is over $200 to have them groomed, we must wash them ourselves at the local pet wash, and because they have double coats of fur, we must brush them for over one hour on Sundays.
Finn takes a few daily meds for eyes, ear, and skin care. Occasional claw trims, and a basket full of clean cloths to head off the drool. Grif requires a daily walk to stave off his nervous disorder along with a dose of melatonin.
Both dogs are insatiably needy for contact. They want to be in the same room with us at all times, especially if I am cooking, or Bob is working from home.
My cats are not happy about any of this.
These XXL dogs don’t have a long lifespan. Newfies can go about 8-10 years. That leaves me a dog owner for at least 2 more years. The Pyrenees has another six years to go. A close friend jokingly asked me if there were any way to expedite their “passing.” I said, “Yes, there are always ways to take care of such burdens.” We chuckled and said nothing more.
However, as time wanes and our new home life marches on, I am finding something also to be true. Bob and I are empty nesters. While our combined six kids are out there in the world, we now turn to the needs of these other living things. Even though we are slowly training the dogs to calm the fuck down, we are witnessing something in each other that would otherwise be lost: we are parenting these wild teens together. We have a common purpose which is to give these monsters a safe and loving space, where they can thrive. Where we can all thrive together, an experience we would both have missed having become a couple so late in life. Every time I watch Bob with his dogs, okay, okay, OUR dogs, I see a beautiful, gentle man who longs to accept them and to be responsible, dutiful. I feel a deep reverence for this man and his capacity to love these creatures.
Sometimes Finn is warm and dry and sweet and that is when I let the witch in me soften and lay my face along his back and draw his power into me. Sometimes I watch Grif from the upstairs window while he stands on the back hill, a purveyor of his one acre kingdom, a source of mighty protection, his long white hair flowing in the breeze.
Finn is actually pretty easy, since he sleeps most of the day and doesn’t seem to mind the cats. When I walk Grif, I can tell that strangers are in awe of his great dignified stature. I feel like Artemis with her wolf companion.
I understand something now which never occurred to me in the beginning of all this: all the horrible stress of caring for these dogs has a payoff. Since I am choosing to love these boys with their ridiculous levels of need, I am reminded consistently why I choose to do it. I do it because I love Bob. I do it because it is the right thing to do. I do it because in the end, I am capable of it. I do it because, damnit, life is not meant to be perfect, nor controlled, nor easy. My life with these two uninvited hairballs is full and often entertaining. Caring for the dogs is actually my only real challenge these days. I have been around long enough to know that that is a first-world problem. I suppose that makes me a pretty lucky girl.
I have been hearing a voice in my head. It tells me I am crazy, lost, unworthy, a poser, and stupid and ugly. It tells me I am loud and absurd, that people don’t understand me. It tells me I am alone and that the only safe place on this earth is by myself. It tells me I cannot rely on others, and that if I make a mistake, they will leave me without explanation. This voice reminds me constantly of how many times I have been let down. This voice is cruel and fear-driven. This voice is the inflated and injured ego that lives inside my mind.
But lately, I have been talking back.
What if every single thing that someone did, said, believed, and decided had absolutely nothing to do with me? What if each time I felt confused, annoyed, hurt, dismissed, attacked, or offended, I actually made a choice to not take it personally? I am beginning to think that this just might be closer to the truth than anything I have ever known.
Let me give you an example: If my friend habitually cancels our plans at the last minute, this voice might say, “She does not care about me, about us. She probably doesn’t even like me all that much.” I might then complain, and I might harbor resentment. I might push her out of my life. I might even do it with an air of judgment. Perhaps I feel rejected because I do not trust my own lovability. Perhaps I tell myself that I am too easy on my friends and should demand them to be more reliable? Yet, there are many good reasons my friend might cancel that have nothing to do with me.
Isn’t anyone’s pattern of unreliability more about them? Doesn’t it suggest many possibilities, like they are just not good at planning; they get overwhelmed easily; they’re just hoping I will have grace; or they could not predict the unforeseen? Is it not more likely that they struggle to say no, or they do not think to check their calendar before committing?
How does this have anything to do with me?
And even if it were about me, as if they were afraid to tell me they need a change, isn’t it their job to do so? Is it not their responsibility to be honest and let me in on it?
This only furthers my idea that such mismanagement of time and devotion is in fact NOT about me.
Additionally, let’s say someone thinks they have the corner market on reality. Let’s say, for instance, they are atheist. They do not believe in any source of a higher power, nor do they honestly respect those who do. Spirituality is hogwash for the weak. Let’s just say for the sake of my argument about that voice in my head, that I find them to be disappointing, naive, closed-minded, or blind. Clearly, we are at an impasse. We will possibly never agree as to whether or not some version of a god exists.
My ego, that defensive voice within, is ready for a fight. I want to convince this atheist that he is wrong and launch into the myriad ways in which it is undoubtedly obvious that my faith in a higher being is the better way, the best way in fact.
This is exactly when I need to pause. I can come up with twenty reasons as to why they think the way they do as they are sharing their beliefs with me. I can break it down and construct a multitude of ways in which their values do not coincide with mine. I can declare that I have lived this path and could write and have read an entire library on this subject.
Instead, I pause. Then I have a little chat with that voice in my head. It goes something like this:
Truth voice: Wait. This isn’t about me. This person is not even asking me what I think.
Ego voice: This has everything to do with me. I spend the better part of every single day almost obsessing about my spiritual world, my teachings, my rituals, my connection to the divine. My beliefs are a relentless and vigilant value which feeds and sustains my soul. This is who I am!
Truth voice: This person does not base his beliefs on what I do or feel or think. They base their atheist views on their own reality.
Ego voice: Why don’t they care what I think? Don’t they know how insulting this is? Do they even know me? This sucks!
Truth voice: This person may grow hostile if I insist on being heard and understood right now. If I cannot allow them their own mind, I am a hypocrite.
Ego voice: I wish I could control what they think.
Truth voice: I wish we could share a common ground on this subject. Well…we do share some common ground. We share friends, a community, basic decency and a love for the arts and the earth, and being our best selves. We share a sense of humor. We laugh together all the time. I love him. He is my friend. He is a good friend, even if he doesn’t consciously worship the divine inside himself or outside of himself. Perhaps he just doesn’t name it in the same ways I do.
This sort of conversation in my head is helping me. I am learning to let go of being understood much of the time. I am seeing that holding love for others has very little to do with me. Except that I have to also love myself. I have to love myself exactly how I am without convincing someone that I have value, that my beliefs have value.
Ego voice: If people really loved me, they would validate me.
Truth voice: If people really loved me, it is because I have the capacity to validate them.
I have seen a lot of comments on social media about our need to rid ourselves of “toxic people.” Yes, it is a grand change to decide that harmful relationships are something we may actually choose or reject. Nonetheless, I balk at the implication that any one person is entirely, well, anything. I caution you to beware those who launch into sweeping generalizations about those with whom they struggle. Perhaps they are many bad things, but I am interested in just what role we ourselves play in our choice to dismantle a relationship, to tear away, to burn it to the ground. It seems like a truly spiritual life will entail a bit more than ghosting or blaming or reducing a human being to the status of garbage. This reminds me also of the label, “narcissist,” as though we are all psychologists with the expertise to determine the actual one percent of bonafide excessive and harmful narcissism that truly exists. Offense is not always the best defense.
What about the narcissist who lives in each and every one of us? Can we just have a bit of compassion and dial it down on the unfair and overly broad definitions? I have seen narcissism in a lot of people I treasure. So what? It is my boundaries and my self-esteem that can protect me from all that, not attacking them with ferocity. If you really know who you are, no one is any real threat. And that leaves the door ajar for your loved ones to be flawed and messy and sometimes downright wrong.
The injury caused by these character assassinations is real, but more so, we are neglecting to see that the extremes of a person’s behavior is typically rooted in pain. Fear is another large factor in someone’s poor choices. Perhaps we could just settle down a bit and recognize how deeply this person needs to be loved. It is one thing to distance yourself as you see fit. It is an entirely separate thing to publicly or even privately demonize them.
I’m not just talking about romance either; although that is a biggie. Relationships with friends, siblings, parents, kids and coworkers are just as relevant in our choices to keep on keepin’ on. In fact, the way we walk, talk, think, and feel about all of our relationships is good practice for romantic love. This is about our capacity for intimacy and deep need for all of the varied relationships we hold. The common denominator is within me…or you…as the case may be. How do I behave when someone I care about is being difficult, maybe even ridiculous? My experience is that most people just pull away without any real explanation, and leave that person floundering in confusion.
My modus operandi is to retreat! I have often determined this woman is a wicked slut, or that man is an abusive monster. Generally with a indignant attitude, thus justifying my choice. Today, I see the signs of how I might have done it differently. I am more open to how I could have kept the love alive, even if it meant just having a different or distant relationship, instead of a hostile relationship.
A few things I do today are helping me to stay in relationships without losing my self in the process.
First, gentle honesty. If I am going to jump ship, I try to express what it is that I need and give them a chance to try. At least I can do that much out of respect for what we have been.
Second, I see the struggle as a way for me to grow, to evolve into a wiser and more refined woman. Go ahead, do that thing that I hate. Then I will be forced to review who I am, what I truly believe about myself, and how I can use grace and compassion to speak my truth.
I have people in my life that hold accomplishment and financial wealth as a measure of one’s character, a common American view. This always pricks my heart, as I have turned away from such things and live with less than I could earn. Does this mean people I love see me as a loser? If my kids don’t attend college, much less the best colleges, does that mean we are failures? What if they struggle all their lives with a meager income? Should we carry shame for it?
Let me tell you something. This is not about those who may judge us. This is not about their standards either. This is absolutely and undeniably about my own sense of human worth, dignity, and the fact that I am finally okay with my own life choices and the ways in which I have also not been lucky. If I am truly at peace, they will see it. They will understand that their measurement is no threat to me. I love my simple life and all the struggles that befall me, as they are a mirror for my strength and my own priorities.
Likewise, if someone I know begins to compete with me, sees me as a threat to their own value, I know full well that only my love will make them question it. Only my deep, sincere desire for their wellness will bring down their walls. If that is not enough, then I must detach from the system in which they live. Sadly, I must release them to their own lessons. But damnit, I am not going to angrily shun them, call them names, and declare my superior status. Because I really just need to grieve that they cannot love me and celebrate my strength. They cannot reap the rewards of my love if they persist in their comparisons and their own unhealed pain.
If the people in my life are cruel, I can love myself without hating them. I can even appreciate those parts of them I still love. I can commune with the divine and thank them for allowing me to not defend, not blame, not stonewall, nor dismiss them. I can protect myself and still keep my love alive.
In a world of unavoidable negotiations, I am a raw, spiked rock, pushing against others, sometimes even scratching or poking them.
I aim to be a tumbled, smooth, shiny stone.
Those rough edges have been with me since I first learned how to engage with others. I learned a lot of bad behavior from those who raised me, and I come by some of it innately, as if my genetics calls forth some battle or an aggression within. But the truth is I don’t really like certain things about myself. Sometimes, when I leave a conversation, I cringe at how I behaved, and it feels like this is who I am. This is a part of me that I cannot help. This shitty person is me.
Well, that is a lie.
I can change. I can consciously remove these poor behaviors, if I am actually willing to admit they exist. I know I can. My spirit is strong, and I believe that rooting out these behaviors will only set me free. Then I can feel better. I can show up better for others, and I can practice the very things that build a more spiritual life.
Consequently, as a woman who wishes to be her best self, to fully self-actualize, and to love myself entirely, I made a plan. I am going to share that plan with you now. It is my own self-induced 100 Day Challenge!
Behavior #1: Giving Unsolicited Advice
I have been around for 56 years. I have been through a lot. I have some hard-earned wisdom. But no one wants to hear my opinions when they are not even asking. When I launch into the varied ways in which they can solve a problem, or improve their situation, I am letting my ego drive the car.
This has to stop. And let me tell you something: This is not an easy thing to change. I have worked on it a little bit for a long time, but I have a long way to go.
When we decide to stop a behavior like this, we must fill the void with new behavior. We cannot work in a vacuum. So my intention is to start doing something else; in place if my excessive sharing, I will now do three other things. I will listen fully, really zero in. I will ask investigative questions – NOT LEADING QUESTIONS like an attorney who is implying one answer – but exploratory questions, to elicit the sort of further understanding that illuminates the speaker’s feelings, facts, and conclusions. Finally, I will parrot back to them what I have heard. When I tell people what I am hearing, they can either say, “Yes! That is what I am saying!” Or they can correct me, “Not exactly.” Then more information is shared and they get to feel heard. Feeling heard is really what most people want. They don’t actually want to know what I think all that often. In fact, saying nothing of my own thoughts is far more likely going to clarify what they really want from me. I would save myself a lot of energy and time if I stopped assuming they are looking for advice when they simply are not.
Behavior #2: Complaining
When I am stressed, or I feel invisible, or my needs go unmet, I tend to bitch a lot. I complain about everything under the sun. The weather. My body aches. My lack of time. Other people. My plans. My food. My furniture. My chores. Everything. How do I stop that? At the outset, I must shut it up. But then where does all that negative energy go? Just stopping it will only bury it in my muscles and stomach. That causes disease. And if you think I was complaining before, just wait until I have a disease.
Therefore, I have to replace that behavior with a question: Is there anything I can do to fix it? If the answer is yes, I guess I know what to do. But if the answer is no, I must ask for what I need. Ugh. Who the heck wants to ask for what they need? Not me. I don’t like counting on others. I don’t like to impose. I don’t like to be vulnerable. I really don’t like to hear a rejecting no either. So, instead of asking, I complain. My new self is going to start telling people what I need. I bet you most of the time I will get exactly what I need. If I am not getting what I need, perhaps I will learn to accept it, or perhaps I need to find some new friends, right?
Behavior #3: Seeking Credit
I like to pull my weight. In fact, I like to make sure no one ever suggests that I don’t do my share. The issue is not that I am lazy, or insufficient. It is that I want credit for all that I do, so I can glean all the feel-goods of people acknowledging my good work. I want approval. I want to be seen. I want to be valued.
It isn’t enough that I know I have value. I want to know that others think I have value as well. I suppose in this way, I am competitive, and perhaps too, I am keeping score.
So that’s gross.
What will I do instead? I will observe. I will remind myself that I like doing these things. I like to be of service. I like to keep order in my home. I like to be productive. I like being actively useful.
At the end of the day, most people do acknowledge my efforts. Most of the time, I am given a thank you or a good job! I don’t want to spend my time wondering if someone will notice. I want to spend my time satisfied with my own willingness to contribute and leave it at that. Thus, no more waiting for the kudos. Now, I will do these things because I like myself more when I do. If no one notices, I guess they must be focused on more important things.
How will I know if I have become a shiny, smooth stone? I will tell my closest people what I am trying to do. This gives them permission to help me, and to hold me accountable. I will journal every day, recording my progress, download the struggles, the lessons, and the observation of my self. I know these behaviors won’t change just because I want them to. It will be two steps forward and one step back. These things are a challenge; otherwise, it would have changed long ago. I have to not apologize for my slips, but ask for do-overs, to try again. I have to balance being gentle with myself and holding myself to a higher standard. I have to practice. It takes time, fortitude, and pride in the fact that I am trying. Part of my spiritual practice is to be honest with myself about how I am showing up. I am confident I can do better, and it feels right and good.
Confession: There is a monster living inside me. She is a lurking, tricky, messy girl. This dark, fiendish one is a part of me. Right now, she is small and almost completely harmless. She sits like a tiny seed inside my brain and has the capacity to break open and sprout. If she is watered with attention, she springs forth an invasive species, consuming me, choking me, and spreading her wretchedness toward everyone I love.
Her name is Suspicion.
Like all shadowy beings, my monster is born of pain. She used to trust people too much. So when the tower of security came tumbling down, she learned fast: Do not be so naive; do not be so cocky. Be something else. Be suspicious.
Then a new day dawned. Years ago, as I became more invested in my then romantic partner, my monster took over my life. I began to investigate, and I began to snoop. Once I had a taste of uncovering secret information, I couldn’t get enough. It became an obsession. The monster now dominated most of my thoughts. It’s sole target was my lover. I knew something was up and I proceeded to prove it. I would wait for him to leave and I would read his journals. I began sneaking onto his phone when he was in the shower, or visiting with others on the patio. At first, it was just a few pages, or an overview of his texts. It was strangely exciting. It made me feel empowered. Eventually, I took great risks to view his photos, his social media messages, his journals and belongings from his past. Suspicion was in charge. Not me.
I learned so much too. I learned that he had been cheating on me. I learned he was hiding drugs in my home. I learned he had almost zero interest in me. He had noted that I was terribly unremarkable. It turned out that my search for the truth was fruitful. The monster inside me was relentless now. I felt justified.
But I wasn’t justified.
I was a monster.
My monster was destroying my spiritual core, the knowing that everything will go as it will and I will be okay no matter what. I had come to think I had to control the outcomes. I no longer believed that fate was going to intervene on its own.
Once I was single again, there were a few lessons I came to understand when I finally contained the monster, having crammed it back into it’s little space, hopefully never to be poked again.
I learned that the facts are not always necessary to justify how one feels. Just feeling that way is enough to demand a change. I don’t need to prove to someone that they cannot be trusted. I need to honor that I do not find them trustworthy, period.
I learned that when someone hides things from me, it is not mine to reveal. It is theirs to carry. They can walk around with that filth. I can just keep living my life free of such burdens.
When a person refuses to mind their own business, they shatter what is sacred – another person’s privacy, sure – but more so their own self-worth. The madness that ensues from distrust is horrific and staggering. The craziest thing about my own situation is that I slowly realized he was purposefully leaving his things out, tempting me to look, and thus sabotaging us in some twisted form of righteousness. You see, my investigations only proved how important he was to me, in fact, more important than my integrity. I’d have benefitted from caring a little less.
Today, I know I am separate from others and their choices. I can keep my dignity. I won’t let Suspicion take me over anymore. My monster is bored, but I like it that way. I know deep down that she is just waiting in there.
Tap tap tap.