Silence about the torment
Silencing the regular losing of myself,
that I have come to expect & endure.
But no numbing this experience.
No drugs, thank you.
It is what it is. I am who I am.
I’m drinking it all in. The agony without reason.
The faceless bliss. Everything in between.
My life. My experience. Thank you.
If it frightens you. That is. Fine.
It terrifies me. How identity can melt into
suffering. No catastrophies. No disasters. Just pain.
I do not believe in normal.
Do not sign on the dotted line of appropriate inner
directions and reactions.
To thine own self be true, is a loaded statement. What
it means is a personal journey.
There is too much life here.
Do you know how even a beautiful sound [especially a beautiful sound],
too loud, hurts the ears? So it is sometimes,
with myself and life.
Too much, so loud. That I hurt all over. Lest I keep firm boundaries
around my tender core.
Pad each stimulating event with expanses of
solitude, music, space, physical movement, freedom, love.
Otherwise you find me writhing in pain. Beauty turned excruciate.
Everyday details turned into an elaborate torture of overwhelm.
I don’t understand this woman I call myself.
But dutifully, passionately, I scribe and paint her experiences
With the hope of someday
making sense of all this
happening in the inner landscape of me/her.
It is like understanding the weather.
Why is it raining today?
Why is the sun scorching?
So in the midst of my scribing, I try to remember, how to breathe.
At times like this morning by the traffic lights, breathing
is close to impossible.
Solar plexus moving only by force, doggedly, the air
wanting to hide
at the base of my throat, shy to move.
At times the breath is like a slow tide
I am the scribe.
Remembering to experience
the storms, the lulls, peace.
Remembering I feel everything. I own nothing.
I painted the first version of this picture on a t-shirt, almost twenty years ago. That was the year I put in an ad on a newsboard [on text-tv, laughing at that a bit now], so I could find out the truth about men. Were they simple beings who could not think, as my mom was fond of saying, or was there something more out there? My soulfriend, the Engineer who would become my husband many years later, bought the t-shirt with this turtle on. He wore it everywhere. The memory still makes me smile.
In addition to musing over that memory, I have been reading and translating parts of this important book about self-harm for a youth project I work in. The book is written compassionately and the text validates the inner reality of anyone who self-harms. Punishment in order to dissolve feelings of shame and guilt, search for emotional relief, making emotional pain clearer and more tangible are just some of the functions that self-harm can have. Most often, in our outcome directed, fast-paced world, an understanding for inner phenomena is lacking. Not so in this book.
Loving ourselves is a skill that is learned when our needs and feelings are heard and responded to, when we see people close to us love themselves and take care of their own needs responsibly, when we can express what is inside and have that received. It is never too late to start learning this skill and building habits that support loving self.
Sandy Talarmo and her shame are honored guests in our tea party, and she graciously agreed to share her authentic and vulnerable drawing & photo here in my blog. Thank you Sandy <3
Limits and Borders as a Doorway to Who We Are
Yesterday I took a break. Napping away my flu, shame and I took a day of self-care, away from everything. Today, I synchronistically stumbled upon this video from Amy Purdy. She lost her legs, just when she was about to fly out into the world and talks about, not just recovery, but about how her life was transformed through the struggle & creations that followed.
She talks about how she feels more free when she is who she is, walking openly on her bionic legs [as she calls them] than if she were pretending to be someone she is not. Amy suggests our borders are what we can use to push away from. She asks if it is possible to see our challenges and limits as blessings, that ignite our imaginations and help us go further than we ever thought we could. As I look at Amy and her pictures of all of her different legs, I feel this deep joy inside of me – what variety! What a creativity in the midst of the unpredictability of life.
The Source of Our Shame is the Core of Our Beauty
Amy inspires me. My challenges are different, but equally vital to how my life has turned out. Since I was a little girl, my emotions have been racing up and down. Highly sensitive to stimuli, like sounds, scratching clothes, smells, lights, colors and even more sensitive to the moods of others, their reactions to me – life has had an element of the unbearable. Added to this I was born with an emotional intensity, where I can go from a feeling of bliss, through all the nuances in between, all the way to suicidal desperation, in a time span of ninety seconds, no matter how calm I seem on the outside.
Feeling life in all of its nuances can be exhausting and talking about feeling so crappy you just want to die freaks everyone out. I learned to push my feelings deep inside of myself and use the great social pacifier of a smile to put everyone at ease. Inside I felt completely and irrevocably broken. There was no amount of squeezing that could make me fit into the role models I saw around me, no matter how I numbed my feelings.
Living with this kind of an internal reality can be difficult to fathom. One way to describe it is this: Imagine you are severely sunburnt throughout your body, wearing a scratchy sweater. There is loud heavy metal music playing all around you, you can hear what others are saying, but you need to strain a bit. Behind every person you see, there is a billboard, with different kinds of emotional information showing (Anger! Irritation! Sadness! Joy! Suspicion! Enjoyment!) in blinking neon lights. There is the smell of too strong, musky perfume in the air. You have a test ahead that you are unprepared for and your hopes and dreams are riding on it. In the midst of the intensity, you. must. perform. well.
[And I would really want to go hide right now, rather than be writing this blog.] The turning point for me came when I sat with my second therapist and incredulously asked her: “Do you mean that getting well from depression means that I need to feel all of my feelings? ALL of them?” Slowly I learned that wanting to die was a signal from inside that could mean different things. That signal could be listened to, befriended, seen, said aloud, encountered compassionately. From recovering all of my feelings and my search for a life that wouldn’t be just bearable, but worth living, has sprung art, coaching, entrepeneurship, poetry, friendships, a marriage to a soulmate, two beautiful children. A life that is handmade, tailored to embrace my sensitivity, my dancing emotional weather and my need for freedom, as well as built on the strength that lies in all of this vulnerability.
I am not broken. And neither are you.
At this point of this tea party experience, I believe shame can be a pathway to self-compassion and to the very core of who we are. We can trust ourselves and we always begin exactly where we are.
How do your challenges and limitations ignite your imagination today? What is the color of your longing?
Water Color, 2010, size 80x54cm. This painting looks a bit different in person, because it is a surface that light reflects from. Here the light is reflecting through the painting, so it looks more transparent.
Anyway, this painting was born one day when I was feeling so intense that it was hard to stand. By serendipity I was led to this text called Dakini’s Bliss by Pema Chodron. I quote a small excerpt from the story here, you can read the whole story from the link that leads to her page on Facebook. This painting is about that paradoxal state of bliss.
“A few years ago, I was overwhelmed by deep anxiety, a fundamental, intense anxiety with no storyline attached. I felt very vulnerable, very afraid and raw. While I sat and breathed with it, relaxed into it, stayed with it, the terror did not abate. It was unrelenting after many days, and I didn’t know what to do.”
“I went to see my teacher Dzigar Kongtrül, and he said, “Oh, I know that place.” That was reassuring. He told me about times in his life when he had been caught in the same way. He said it had been an important part of his journey and had been a great teacher for him. Then he did something that shifted how I practice. He asked me to describe what I was experiencing. He asked me where I felt it. He asked me if it hurt physically and if it was hot or cold. He asked me to describe the quality of the sensation, as precisely as I could. This detailed exploration continued for a while, and then he brightened up and said “Ani Pema, that’s the Dakini’s Bliss. That’s a high-level of spiritual bliss.” I almost fell out of my chair. I thought, “Wow, this is great!” And I couldn’t wait to feel that intensity again. And do you know what happened? When I eagerly sat down to practice, of course, since the resistance was gone, so was the anxiety.”
I walk in the world, dragging my little paraiba case
with the stickers
and the paints
and the brushes
and the masking tape
Feeling everything, it being far too much
Delighting, irritating, triggering, moving
the crowd with my childishness
Shame still catches me by the throat
I pour it into the void
Self-hatred still chokes me
and I set it into the void gently
I fill the dish washer
I paint a painting
I scratch dirt off the floor
I pour it into the void
I love my husband
I feel lonely in his presence
I miss him so much
I move from my thoughts to my heart
content to just weep
Luminous dakini flying in the sky
help me keep on pouring
in the middle of my bewilderment