Thursday, February 02, 2017
Where I Am - Weekly Class
"Where I Am" is my favorite default prompt nowadays, borrowed from Natalie Goldberg via Saundra Goldman and her #continuouspractice group on Facebook. "Where I am" is a classically good prompt - it can be answered very directly, with description of your physical location, or it can be taken many different possible directions - where you are in your life, where your mind is right now, etc. It seems boring, simple - but it is multidimensional.
Unsurprisingly, considering my students are majority (if not entirely) Madison liberals, a lot of folks' minds after a four-week break were on the Inauguration and in particular, the first week of the administration. Unsurprisingly, as well, a lot of folks located in those concerns were worried, scared, if not stuck. Anger trapped inside for at least a week ripped out of throats, followed by tears. Powerful depictions of being trapped - in forests, in houses - and also, in beautifully subtle ways, trapped in open space - feeling exposed, vulnerable, unsure and disoriented.
We talked about choice paralysis in class, as well as my ongoing intention class, Return. Choice paralysis is when you have too many options, and people who want to DO SOMETHING right now are having a hard time knowing what to do. On Facebook, I see many different suggestions being posted for maintaining self-care, for where to focus your attentions. For many of my students, underneath all these ideas was a core need to be with the feeling of being vulnerable or trapped - to be exactly where we are, instead of trying to run from it, as scary as it is. Being with others helps a lot - being able to voice all the video games we are playing, fantasies in our heads we are developing. As one student said, "I've upped my game in talking to myself."
Even when people wrote more directly to where they are physically - my living or dining room, or the home where they live now, or Wisconsin - there was always a felt sense underneath the surface (twenty minutes of writing nearly always exposes this) of what other layers exist in being in a space, and what other spaces we are in. Anxiety-provokingly accurate descriptions of never being able to sit still at home, the achy winter body of not enough movement or outside time, the shame of not being able to do something reflecting back from the undone laundry at home, the smelly dog in the confines of the warm stuffy car.
And, above all, a sense of resilient hope emerged. Hope out of clear-eyed seeing, not a naive hope. As I wrote: "A hope with roots, a hope with vigor." People feeling all their years of practice helping them to not just cope but act accurately - recognizing impermanence, not getting bowled over, able to stand in this moment and know what we can do is enough. It has to be enough. As one student said, "Will the hollow sinking feeling inside me ever allow me to be enough?" and we all knew, and discussed, how it may not. How our confidence in enoughness, how our choices in our lives and politics, have to come from another inner voice - not the inner critic, but the inner mentor. And that hollow feeling might need to be something we let go of trying to control, lest it re-grab our attention constantly, begging us to fix it, fill it, change it. Recognizing we are all always still learning, practicing, changing.
Lots of great exchanges, as always, about relationships, about all the levels and layers of our lives lived in any circumstance, regardless of political upheaval. Is equanimity the same as denial or ignorance? Of course we know it isn't - but how do we feel that difference, especially in ourselves? And what about when the history falls into the present, and we suddenly can't seem to tell the difference, can't see if we are in New Mexico or Wisconsin? Our inner child comes to the forefront and demands care and attention, amidst tremendous upheaval in our society, which can't help but reverberate into our communities and families.
Many of us have full lives, but they are not always full of life, as one student noted. So many people want to really inhabit their lives fully right now, but feel so overwhelmed. When is setting boundaries not about hiding, but about creating space to save sanity? Regardless of our political affiliation, we have to watch the edge between staying informed and immersing ourselves into the news until we drown in despair.
Finding the room for space is crucial - actually, it can't be found, it simply has to be made. No bones about it. Space to practice, to share, to help take down the inner walls of shame and isolation. These are key steps in any activist's, any stay-at-home-mom's, any CEO's, or lawyer's life. We all need it. We are all human.