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Stepping into the fray

I didn’t want to meditate this morning. I’ve been doing this meditation practice with ice lately, training myself to focus in the presence of discomfort. It’s not pleasant (that’s the point), but it’s effective, and I moved around my house in the space before entering discomfort with that cagey resistance that most of us know really well.

I knew I had to go in, but I wished that I didn’t.

I did the practice, and that cagey resistance was waiting again on the other side when it came to going for a walk. It’s a perfect spring day—I don’t know what my problem was. Sometimes, I resist the best things for the dumbest reasons. I went for my walk and I passed a polling station and I wondered if part of that dodgy vibe I’m picking up is because today is the NY primary and a lot of people are on serious tenterhooks. This whole country is, when you think about it.

It feels like a verge we’d never be on, but here we are.

And aren’t we always here? In one way or another?

That cagey resistance is part of my every day. So is that feeling of being on the verge. Of being one step away from a fray I’m always going to have to enter.

And there’s a feeling of wanting to run and hide, but also a feeling of not wanting that at all. This subtle, internal push-pull locks me up and makes it all much harder than it needs to be. Most times the answer is to just do the thing. Stop fretting at the side of the pool and get in already. It’ll only be cold for a second.

This is how it is with change. We know it’ll be uncomfortable—we’re not stupid. But, we forget that’s not the point.

The discomfort isn’t what we’re choosing, it’s the change.

Sometimes, it doesn’t feel like a choice, though. It feels like you’re forced into a situation of sinking or swimming and maybe you resent the part of it you didn’t choose. But, you’re here, in the water, so you’d best get on with things. I felt that way when I got divorced. I didn’t want to be single, but the person I was married to was leaving, and that’s just what was happening. Resistance hung me up for awhile, but eventually I understood that I needed to set about choosing how I wanted to be single because that’s what I was now.

Same with the miscarriages. Same with every time depression comes to call.

And honestly? Same with every day I wake up and resist the practices that are keeping me alive. Every time I face down some Big New Something like moving or really learning to be an ally or trying to get pregnant again.

We’re always on the verge. We’re always stepping into the fray.

We’re always making that giant choice to face What Is and act without knowing how things will turn out.

I want to acknowledge that in you. Because sometimes what might seem like the Tiniest Nothing Thing, like, do I wear a dress today? is the opposite of tiny. Ask any transgendered person. And sometimes what we’re facing down is speaking the truth in the face of oppression or acting directly against accepted ways of existing. Sometimes, there could be consequences that are really painful, and that’s the risk we’re taking when we step in.

That cagey resistance thinks it’s trying to save our lives. But it doesn’t actually have that power.

The only thing that will save us is to walk right off the edge and see what happens on the way down.

You can’t stay on the edge forever. It doesn’t actually work that way because that edge isn’t safe. There are scary consequences there, too. Which isn’t to say There Is No Safe Space. It’s just not where you think.

The safest place you can be is at the moment mid-step when your foot has left resistance, your weight has shifted, and gravity is pulling you toward What Is.

That moment of free-fall is the safest place in the world.

What are you resisting right now? What’s waiting for you on the other side? Share in the comments below.

The edge of surrender

I call the year spanning from July 2014 to June 2015 My Lost Year. During that time, I had two miscarriages and two chemical pregnancies (miscarriages that happen so early, it’s like you weren’t even pregnant at all, but ah, you were, you were, you swear you were).

My body, mind, emotions, and spiritual sensibilities were chopped and churned. There was so much blood, so much confusion, so much pain. My memory of that year is shot—I cannot place anything in time, even now. The phrase ‘I’ve blocked it out’ is apropos, though that implies some kind of conscious choice in the blocking, which doesn’t feel like the case.

A year of my life was just gone.

I emerged from that time broken and enraged. I felt like a failure, and like I’d been robbed. After enduring all that suffering and loss, the world owed me a baby for God’s sake. I was a blood-soaked warrior, kneeling in the killing field, screaming pointlessly into the sky.

But I live in New York City. And pointless screaming, while common, doesn’t go over.

What I didn’t know then was that the very end of my rope was the perfect place to be: a potent moment of pure potential disguised as hopelessness, loss, and rage.

I was on the threshold of surrender.

Surrender gets a bad rap. Many of us were told early in life that a “quitter” wasn’t something you wanted to be. Failure was also terrible and to be avoided at all costs. Actually, any kind of poor judgment or lack of ability to predict the future was frowned upon. (You should have known better…) Really, what you wanted was to get everything right on the first try, stick with it, and succeed at all times.

But, we don’t always succeed in the conventional way. I’m stating the obvious, but is it, actually, that obvious? That we really don’t know, going in, what will happen or how things will turn out? That we’re often so obsessed with getting something right, we’re blind to the ways in which we’re getting it wrong?

And that the harder we struggle to reach our desired outcome, the further away that dangling carrot gets?

It’s like a boxer getting their ass kicked, but they keep staggering to their feet, only to get knocked down again. And again. And again. Why does she keep getting up? Why not stay down? Or more to the point, why not just get out of the ring altogether? Get some ice on that eye. Have a hot bath, maybe some tea. Crawl into flannel jammies and call it a day already, sheesh.

We try so hard for so long that we make ourselves suffer. We effort and persevere and strive ourselves to death. Why?

We forgot how powerful we are in surrender.

In surrendering, you set yourself free. The outcome that had you in chains, and the struggle that locked you up further is gone. The ego you built up around achieving this thing vanishes. The identity you constructed, I Am The Person Who…, disappears. You become, in that moment, your true, expansive, and unlimited self.

Just by letting go. Just by saying, with every cell of your being, Uncle.

When you truly and actually surrender, you shed your small self and step into the largest version of who you are. The self that is open and vulnerable. Majestic and unencumbered. The one who can see things afresh, and is willing to embrace change.

Because that’s all that’s being asked for here at the edge of surrender.

Only change.

Things aren’t working. It’s time to try another way.

It’s so simple, but we complicate it. We make ourselves bleed. We make ourselves feel bad and wrong. We followed the rules to a T, but the rules screwed us over so fuck them and fuck you and fuck everyone in your apartment building and on your knitting team, too.

Hey, it’s okay.

It just isn’t working.

I don’t know why. Probably none of us do. It’s not the right time for one reason or another, or for no reason at all. It might never be the right time. So let’s back ourselves out of this box canyon and find something else to do.

This? Might be called failure. (And don’t we have a lot of baggage around that whole scene?) But it might also be called embracing what’s real.

The key here, and the hardest part, is to actually surrender.

Not just a little. Not for the afternoon. Not by keeping one foot in the door because maaaaaybe if you tweak your approach slightly and re-write the copy and work nights for another couple of weeks…no. I mean honestly and courageously face the fact that you and this particular thing are not working out, and let it go wholly and completely. For real.

Let your ego feel that punch to the solar plexus, that full-body oooof, and also that moment of free-fall afterward where a lot of existential room opens up under your feet and you plummet for a good long minute or two. (You might need to cry a little at this point. I support that 100%. Go ahead and let some pressure out of the tires.)

And then feel what happens next.

It might be a little like: in breath, out breath, blink. It might sound like a bird chirping or a taxi driving by. You might notice, say, the way the light falls on the sofa or how the woman across the room shifts in her seat.

That’s what surrender feels like. Grounded and free and simple. Like the present moment just flashed its boobies at you and smiled as if to say, “See? It’s not so bad here. We’ve got birds. We’ve got snacks. What took you so long?”

And what, oh powerful, surrendered one, do you want to do next?

Working with time

I’ve been thinking a lot about my relationship to work and time lately. Making time for creative work. Retreats as a way of moving forward quickly in a short amount of time. Multitasking as a concept. I’ve been in a number of vastly interesting situations, many of which are outside my preferred way of working, which is, in a nutshell: a little bit each day always toward a process-oriented deadline. Like, “I’d like to have my first draft done by X,” or “I’ve got an in-progress showing next month.”

This is my jam. However.

In the past several months, not only has my own lovely, spacious bubble has been popped, but I’ve had the opportunity to observe people in their natural habitats (all very different from my own), and to hear from you, my incredible readers, on a regular basis. What follows is the contemplative results of my observations and experiences in something like chronological order.

Lessons from illness

First, I was sick for two months straight. Not I’ve-got-the-sniffles sick, but laid out on the couch, and curled in a ball for the entirety of December and January. (Everything’s fine, don’t you worry for one second.) It sucked royally, but it gave me a peek into what it means to have seriously reduced capacity. I could not turn my illness off or control it in any way, so the idea of fitting work around it was impossible (and laughable). Meanwhile, I had a significant process deadline scheduled for the end of February, the first draft of a brand-new work, so I felt the pressure to get work done.

My creative work, paid work, and domestic labor depended on me grappling with the question, ‘How do I work while sick?’ Now. My experience was temporary—others living with chronic illness or disability, not so much. I know for a fact disabled artists have written far more eloquently on this subject than I, but the education of my experience is worth sharing.

Be okay with doing less.

Sometimes a lot less. Sometimes nothing.

Ask for help.

I thought I knew how to do this before. I was deeply wrong. This is a critical skill to learn, and keep learning.

Let shit go.

My house was a disaster for two months, I wore the same thing every single day, and no one had clean underwear. Meh. I also had to make difficult choices about which of my projects to focus on and which to (at least temporarily) let go.

Count on impermanence.

Illness, much like grief, is a state that tricks you into believing it will never end and there will be no reprieve. Stay extremely present and maximize Windows Of Wellness as they arise, however random and however brief.

Lessons from overwork

Next, I attended a staff retreat intended to root us in the big picture of the group’s mission and vision, and to collectively orient ourselves to our goals for 2016. The idea was to pluck us from our usual contexts and the demands of client work, so we could immerse ourselves in collaboration and creative thinking. The only trouble was, client work still had to be done.

Over the course of four days, billable hours gradually took over, shoving the juicy stuff into the margins. People stayed up late, hunched over their laptops until past midnight. Folks skipped out on retreat sessions because they had to prepare for client calls later in the day. Other people pinballed between priorities, never finishing one thing or the other. A bunch of us got sick after returning home. As I observed this process unfold, it reaffirmed my commitment to several things.

Multitasking doesn’t work.

For me, anyway. There’s research to back me up on this, but just watching people try to do it was exhausting—and trying to collaborate with people who were all over the place was crazymaking. Try working in focused chunks of time instead. (They can be short!)

Important before urgent.

If you do the urgent stuff first, you’ll fight fires all day and never get to what’s important to you. Dreams, big picture work, creative time; it all gets shoved to the bottom of the list unless you put it first in your day.

Self-care, self-care, self-care.

There were a couple of people who, as I put it, ‘managed their introversion well’ at the retreat. They took their alone time and made sure they made enough space to recharge. But for a lot of us, the pressure to engage and appear busy and “do” ourselves to death took a terrible toll.

Lessons from mindful immersion

After the work retreat, I went on a retreat for my own creative project with two collaborators. It was intense and immensely productive. It was also in the Rocky Mountains. We went in with a couple of intentions, but no plan. We rode the present moment, allowing it to reveal what was needed at any given time.

The result was pockets of incredibly deep work that emerged organically from a foundation and backdrop of self-care: we ate well, we meditated, we moved our bodies, we spent time outdoors, we watched ridiculous comedies, we rested. The whole 72 hours were spent attending to the present moment, nurturing our project, and offering our whole selves into the process.

Intensive work works.

For projects where your collaborators are far away, or if it’s difficult to do a little work every day, short bursts like retreats are an incredible way to focus deep and move forward quickly.

The process works.

There is absolutely no need to impose arbitrary plans or outcomes onto the process (assuming you paid attention to the urgent vs. important business from above). The process can be trusted to reveal exactly what is needed, and what process-based milestone is asking to be attended to next.

Get some distance.

The beauty of a retreat isn’t just the focused time on your project, it’s the perspective you gain on your regular life. Rather than just getting through the day, you step away, and see things clearly. What habits of action or thought need a re-set?

You gotta power down.

Staying aggressively present and committing to process with your whole self—physical, mental, spiritual, emotional—is hard freaking work. Laughter and lightness lets you come down and give your innards some actual rest. (Watch Magic Mike XXL. Seriously.)

Lessons from family

The re-entry from my retreat was all about family. I stayed with a friend who has two young kids, and then visited my parents for several days. I was reminded, yet again, that family time is full-on. It’s as intense as a retreat, and for folks with kids, that intensity never stops.

Some people can hustle both work and family at the same time, but I’m no longer satisfied with feeling fractured and pulled in too many directions. More and more, being fully in the here and now is the way for me to create a calm mind and good relationships.

Surrender.

Instead of tearing yourself apart about what’s not getting done and what boxes aren’t getting ticked, release completely into the present moment. Trust yourself.

Dwell in a place of love.

Take a step back and see what’s really important, what really endures, and what needs the full force of your heart center right now. Instead of struggle and tension, bring all your love to bear on a situation and watch what happens.

What have you learned about the relationship between work and time? Share your genius in the comments below!