Who we think we are and how we manifest to others.
What we want to get done and what we actually get done.
What we write and how it sounds to ourselves, reading aloud later, and how it sounds to others.
These gaps are natural, normal. But where we have gaps, we often believe we are lacking.
I am about to teach my first week-long writing retreat.
How am I preparing?
Not by reading, not by writing talks. By walking, by shaking, by dancing and stretching.
I've been teaching writing as a contemplative practice for over ten years now, through weekly classes (four a week!) and weekend retreats (usually a dozen or so a year). That's no small thing. Last year I taught two four-day retreats, so I got a taste for building a longer retreat. I have studied with Natalie Goldberg for years, and learned a lot about how to hold such a long-term container, not to mention all the times I've been on meditation retreats for longer than a week.
And yet - of course - I am anxious.
Anxious as hell, actually, which I am only really realizing when I stop "doing" and start paying attention. This is the last thing my anxiety wants me to do - pay attention. It wants me to keep doing, doing, doing, which will assuage the anxiety somewhat, but only temporarily. The only way to the other side of this anxiety, and the energy it is holding back from me, is through. The only way to get through is body movement. Gentle body movement. Why?
I have to look at causes in order to understand why. What is causing the anxiety? The groundlessness of the gap. The not-knowing: what if someone gets sick? Has a breakdown? We'll be on an island with a ferry that doesn't run all the time. What if? What if?
What if what? But the real anxiety isn't about all that. The real anxiety, if I am honest is
"What if I am not good enough?" That's what I find fills the gap the most of the time: shame.
What if I am not good enough? What the hell. Of course I know I am good enough. Mentally. But there are parts of me, deep in my body and psyche, that long ago learned to compensate for others' failing me by believing it was my fault. Not just my fault, but there was something wrong with me. And ten plus years of practicing basic goodness, of looking at the fact, yes, fact, that there is nothing wrong with me seems to go out the window when it comes to a challenge like this.
Lately I've been reading The Body Keeps the Score, an amazing book by Bessel Van Der Kolk that explores how deeply in the body trauma is stored. It is a great book, which for our purposes at the moment I will simply say explores the "top down" approaches (talk therapy, etc) and the "bottom up" approaches (TRE, EMDR and other body-based "somatic" therapies). He does a great job of pointing out that our nervous systems are often disconnected from rational thinking during trauma, and so we cannot go in and "convince" them to feel better, to believe something they didn't believe because of trauma.
This gap, I think, is the biggest gap we have as humans:
WE BELIEVE THERE IS SOMETHING WRONG WITH US.
NO AMOUNT OF TALK THERAPY OR EVEN MEDITATION CAN QUITE CONNECT, FILL IN, OR LET US ABIDE IN THE GAP BETWEEN THAT BELIEF AND THE TRUTH THAT THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH US.
What will, then?
Ann Patchett talks about the necessity of writing again and again, returning to the practice, abiding in that gap, feeling the shame, forgiving yourself.
Meditation and being with others is crucial in restoring the top-down approach, also necessary.
But fundamentally, we have to move our bodies. We have to do body-based therapies: dancing, shaking, subconscious, pre-conscious wiggling and eye movements.
Personally, I feel more and more, in myself and in others, for some of us that is the only way to fully even that score. In order to abide in being between our sense of who we are and who we are, to rest in the gap - the natural, existing, won't-ever-really-disappear gap between our expectations and our reality. Regular exercise, time in nature, and deep, body-shaking, belief-relieving therapies.
The gaps - almost all of our gaps - are physical. Not just psychological, but bodily. So we need to come at them through the body to be able to stand even working with them. This is in addition to - not instead of - meditation, writing, photography: whatever other practices we do contemplatively.
Where can I find these, you ask?
Trauma/Tension Release Exercises (aka TRE)
Check local listings for Ecstatic Dance (Madison is here).
Go for walks in nature - even if that simply means outside your house. Not for exercise, just to be in your body.
Yoga - gentle yoga like Yin are especially helpful and deep releases.
Above all, read books like Body Keeps the Score and David Rome's Your Body Knows the Answer in order to get in touch with what intuitively feels like the right modalities for you. Your body knows. When you read or hear about what your body needs for healing your psyche, it will tell you. It might be quiet, but it will reach across the gap and tap you on the shoulder. Please listen.
And please be gentle. Don't make this another thing you have to do. Keep exploring. Get help. Get support. Play. And give yourself credit for trying. Very few even notice this gap, much less willingly face it and try to leap, dance, stretch across it. It won't take just one time - it will take many times. Explore. Cry. Feel. And repeat.