Archive for September, 2012|Monthly archive page

Segregation

When my internal monologue gets really belligerent on a topic, it’s generally because it’s trying to protect something that hurts, and either I can’t quite see it or don’t quite want to see it. When I easily fall into imagining angry conversations with people, defensive and strident conversations, then something underneath is definitely aching.

On the way home from taiji class last night, all my internal voices were mad, anticipating attack and rallying violent defense. Because taiji is not altogether a source of peace or strength right now, and that does hurt. Not all the time, but sometimes it catches me out.

My class has been working on an advanced form this year, a difficult form. I got through the beginning all right, but it gets harder as it goes and progress didn’t last. Moving into the harder second section coincided with the beginning of the summer’s terrible onslaught of anxiety issues, and for the first time since I started my practice taiji became a problem instead of a joy. I ground my way through classes, awkward and angry, sometimes determined to beat the damn thing out of spite and sometimes ready to throw up my hands and just walk away entirely. I stopped practicing outside of class, because I couldn’t make myself do it. I couldn’t face the extra reminders of how terrible I am and how hopeless it all was. I hated not keeping up, hated not practicing, hated the idea of practicing, hated that I wasn’t getting anywhere, hated that I couldn’t keep a lighter perspective and laugh off the awkwardness. Hated everything, and anticipated hating everything for the rest of the year, until Stupid Hard Form would finally go away in January and I could stop my slogging, demoralizing fight with it.

January is too far away. After a couple months of this I got mad enough to make an executive decision: Stupid Hard Form is fired. I’m not going to work on it. I’m not going to learn any more choreography for it, or have anything at all to do with it. I am so finished here. Because I realized that I still loved taiji and I missed it, and Stupid Hard Form was just getting in the way of getting back to a thing I loved and that used to help me. I couldn’t cope with flailing away at something extremely hard and having no perceptible progress, not when everything in my life felt extremely hard and was showing terribly little progress. This one thing, at least, I could opt out of. So I did.

It was the right choice. As soon as Stupid Hard Form was fired, my interest in working on everything else came back. I’ve got several short forms I can study, ones which still have lots to teach me. I’m considering entering the next round of belt testing, maybe even entering a small competition, when those were unthinkable before. I have no doubt that it was the right choice.

Except, Stupid Hard Form didn’t really go away. This dumb form pretty much is the bare-hand taiji program for this year. It’s what all the classes are working on. Except for me, because I fired it. So I find myself in a weird place. My program director is totally understanding, and has been very helpful in letting me absent myself from Stupid Hard Form, to go off on my own and work on something else while the rest of the class does whatever it does. But it’s not comfortable being on my own. It’s weird to find a corner of the room and try to ignore what else is going on, to choose what I want to do and try to learn something by myself. I’m separate now, and I don’t like it. I feel like a special case, a problem child, a “that student.”

There’s no truly comfortable ground here. My choice is either stay with everyone else and do something that has become a source of anxiety and pain, or segregate myself and feel the pinch of sticking out, of not fitting in. Even inside this truly understanding and accommodating environment, this place of good friends and real support, that still pinches me hard.

That not-fitting-in place is one of the hardest things for me, and I find myself uneasily confronting it more and more often — only inside the bounds of my own heart, because it’s too risky a thing to let out into the air. I find myself developing my own opinions and ideas, and then discover they separate me from the spoken opinions of my family, my closest friends and social groups, and I’m stuck. My own deep sense of truth won’t let me “just go along” with ideas I believe are wrong, but expressing what I believe is right will instantly separate me from people who are really important to me, and that’s emotionally treacherous ground. I can’t live alone. I can’t be separate, I won’t thrive on my own. But I won’t thrive unless I can find and speak my own truth, either.

I’m good at holding my tongue, and I give few people reason to suspect how contrary I can be. But taiji is pushing me right now to make my own right choice and live with the uncomfortable consequence of separation, of sticking out and not fitting in. Maybe this is a lesson I need right now, more than any refinement of physical movement. Maybe this is what Stupid Hard Form is going to teach me in the end: to get a little better at standing up inside my own truth, whatever the consequences may be.

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A list

This morning I wrote out a list. It’s a sort of weekly to-do list, but sort of not. It’s actually bigger than that.

The to-do items on this list represent some first steps in bigger projects, things that I really want to do. Things that have been on my mind for a while, which I haven’t done anything about. Things that scare me. Things that I really want.

It’s hard to actually really want something. I find that it is, at least. If you really want something, you can really get hurt by not having it. I’ve never really wanted anything too badly, as an unconscious defensive mechanism. If I don’t want something too much, I can shrug it off when it doesn’t happen. If I only really want things that I can be sure of, then there’s little risk involved.

This morning I wrote down a list of things that are not at all assured. A scary list. An I-don’t-know-if-I-can-do-this list. An I-don’t-even-know-how-to-do-this list.

It’s only a list. None of the things have happened yet. There will have to be a lot more lists before any of the things come into being, if they ever do. But the list has escaped from my head. All of these things are just a little bit more real than they were yesterday. Doing the things on the to-do list will make them a little more real still. Making the next to-do list could make them even more real.

I’m not good at really wanting things yet, and I’m not very good at chasing things I want. But I have a list. It’s a start.

Portents

Last weekend in my internet ramblings I wandered into a conversation about signs and portents, started by a good friend and wonderful lady who stumbled across something in her family history that took her aback, and about which she was wondering, is this some kind of message? Is there even such a thing as getting “messages” from the great beyond, in some fashion?

I can’t answer that question in any specific case, but in the general case, I believe very much that humans get messages from “the great beyond” — in more plain terms, God speaks and God acts, in many times and at many ways. He doesn’t always use plain language, so sometimes there are signs and cryptic messages seeded into our daily lives, things that could be very ordinary but which are suddenly not ordinary at all, things which compel our attention even if we don’t understand why.

It’s that internal attention bit that I’m thinking about, and which I gave my friend some food for thought about, because without the internal hook which grabs onto a “message” or “portent” and digs to find significance in it, whatever external thing constitutes the “message” would just go on its merry way and not mean anything in particular at all. Whether or not some external agency is trying to speak to us by sending a sign, if something really hooks our attention, then something internal is trying to speak, something inside us wants to be heard, and if we’re not paying conscious attention it will grab hold of unconscious means and keep yelling until we look at it. A message is meaningless if you can’t read it, or can’t even see it. What we really see and what attracts our attention are signs about what’s important to us, and well worth paying some attention to.

I was thinking about this later in the week while skimming through my blog reader, and so an internal thing said “A-hem” and finally pointed me at the contents of my blog reader, the sites I’ve collected over time to read because they interest me the most. Things like Jon Acuff’s blog, author of Quitter and strong advocate for chasing dreams. Things like Don Miller’s blog, author of A Million Miles in a Thousand Years and the brand-new Storyline, about to be released. The kinds of posts I bookmark are nearly always ones about how to chase something bigger or live a more meaningful life. Signs. Portents. Stuff that grabs my attention. Am I listening?