Here is a long post written August 29, 2015. Just as we were receiving the first wave of much needed rain after a record breaking dry spring/summer.
“Riders on the storm
Riders on the storm
Into this house we’re born
Into this world we’re thrown”
Jim Morrison, The Doors
In my new job at the clinic I am responsible for referring people for tests, or to various specialists. The reasons range from mysterious rashes to brain tumors. The final step I take is to contact the people being referred and give them the phone number for whomever they are being referred to. My intent is that they have some empowerment to be active in their scheduling process. I have felt the anxiety through the phone line of those waiting for a call back- it is clearly a yucky place to be in. By giving folks the number of the specialist, or radiologist or whatever, they have permission to call on their own behalf, which can result in more speedy scheduling and a better emotional ride. All of which brings to mind on a daily basis the vast difference between feeling like a helpless victim, and feeling like the captain of your own ship- even if that ship is in a really really big storm.
A big diagnosis brings with it waves of emotion- fear, denial, anger, more fear, numbness, grief, loss – and conversely, luminous clarity, joy, happiness, gratitude and love. The list of needs these feelings point to is long; connection, empathy, care of body, nourishment… A huge part of negotiating serious illness is balancing the means to get all these various needs met. If you have ever been around a toddler who is proclaiming “Me do it meself!” you recognize the impulse that we carry forward into adulthood to be independent. But illness puts interdependence front and center. This can create tension. We may long for both being nurtured and cared for- and at the same time may benefit from doing as much on our own behalf as we are able. Sometimes people get stuck on one end of this continuum or the other which may tip their emotions towards the dark side of things.
We all carry within ourselves templates that judge what and how much it is okay to feel, or ask for. We may have created a life in which we keep ourselves carefully within the parameters of our particular template. This may include the idea that we can only feel one thing at a time, or that when something big happens it is our job to put on a good face and keep a “good attitude.” Much like the leash keeps our deaf cat safely on the deck, these internal templates evolved to keep us safe. And like the leash they have a dark side.
This pressure to be, “POSITIVE” is capitalized in the pink ribbon campaign. (PUN INTENDED.) I have talked with many women who have been impacted by breast cancering, and for some there is quite a bit of anger, that anger seems to fill all available heart space. They seem to be saying “I’ll be damned if I will put a good face on this.” And they are damned. They are damned to be either martyrs or soldiers as they suffer through that black and white world. I have also known people who have been immensely helped by their own take on all things pink. By embracing the pink ribbon identity they have found strength and comfort in it. It seems like whatever storm comes our way, our internal templates guide how it will occur to us. Very similar experiences may lead us to very different realms.
Trying to sort out the fact that 2014 was both one of the best years and the worse year of my life, has created confusion within myself. Because I believe that my efforts to be present and focused on love and gratitude has been a HUGE contributing factor in my wellbeing in the last few years, and I have been struggling with how to discuss it without seeming like a pink ribbon pollyanna. This week I recognized just what separates the world view I learned from NVC and Bernie Seigal about transforming your internal templates, and the corporate pink ribbon positive thinking ideal. I have felt on a gut level that they are vastly different things, but haven’t had the words to explain it. The key is that one perspective sees life as a dichotomy – with the choice to either embrace hot pink or embrace black. The other view is a world of infinite possibilities.
One way that I am seeing the difference between the pink-ribbon-positive and the Bernie-Seigel-positive is the difference between “Nice” and “Kind.” The compulsion to be “Nice” can be toxic, when it is a veneer over supressed turbulent feelings. Prioritizing appearances over authenticity. “Nice” is a kind of servitude. The grin and bear it philosophy. Both the pink ribbon campaign and this kind of “Nice” are all wrapped up in SHOULD. As in “You Should be Nice.”, “You should keep a good attitude.” Should emerges from that space between shame and anger. Should seeks to “Put you in your Place.”
In contrast I see Kind as a sacred gift of service. Kindness is the action you take after a deep breath, checking in with yourself and acknowledging the humanity of both yourself and the person in front of you. Kindness says “I acknowledge that this really sucks, and I choose to love and accept anyway.” Kindness comes from the understanding that we are all the children of god, that in fact we are all infinite beings interconnected into a vast beautiful web of light.
Despite having this awareness, the way I have been traveling is not all bunnies and rainbows- I have swam in the sea of grief and anger. When I have cataloged all the things that suck, my life sucks, a lot. When I have acknowledged what sucks, and chosen to focus on love- my life has been really beautiful. I have had this modeled for me be many people, including those who are dying. All of this has been teaching me so much, and it has opened my heart up in huge ways. It has taught me that it is possible to be happy even when terrible things are happening, happiness is less connected to outside events than I ever believed possible before. Seeking the path that contains joy is a self reinforcing experience well worth the effort.
This year has been darker than last year- it has required more effort on my part to keep centered and in contact with joy. Especially as I left the cocoon of my year out of time, and returned to the world. Partly because my internal template says that it is not okay to ask for help around emotional woes. Last year I had a huge pass- I could ask for lots of help, and we were surrounded by kindness. I was a card carrying member of the Cancer-ing club, unquestionably entitled to love. My internal template assigned all sorts of rules to what that meant. This year while I am still surrounded by kindness, I have felt the pressure to lean into independence and away from interdependence. Chased by some of my inner demons of should-ness that try to mandate how interdependent I am “allowed” to be. The shadows that say I have to somehow earn every kindness.
When we live in the “nice” world we can only keep it up for so long, if something happens we don’t like we can’t keep it up. Until eventually, it becomes intolerable and we seem to have only one choice, to lash out. Last spring a friend needed to let me know how I had profoundly let her down. Her words were bitter and angry. She had been considering my actions and she believed me to have shown myself to be selfish and unloving. She wanted to let me know that we were no longer friends, and in fact had not been authentic friends for a long time. It was like a gut punch, that knocked the emotional wind out of me.
I took her words to heart in solidarity of my shadow shame template. I withdrew, from everything. I considered all the things she said, in fact ruminated on them. I became despondent. It made me question myself- had I really been as happy and overflowing with love as it had seemed? Was it all an illusion? I took a hard look at the ways in which I had been less than generous to her. The fact that I am still ruminating on her words months later testifies to how much we impact each other both positively and negatively. We each are both wondrous and flawed- and our effect in the world reflects that.
What saved me from my dark thoughts is this: This week a different friend needed to let me know about a way I let her down. She offered the huge gift of letting me know with kindness. She illuminated a blind spot I had, and modeled setting a boundary in a way that helped me be totally accountable for my actions. These two interactions exemplify the nice world view vs the kind world view. Because while the flip side of Nice is pissed off and righteous. The flip side of Kind is pissed off and compassionate.
I see now that in engaging with a wild transformative journey to the luminous world of possibilities, is to be quite tender, and vulnerable to falling back into old ways of framing myself as not enough. It is difficult to hold the truth of both our beauty and our flaws in compassion.
So as the wind and rain lash the coast with some much needed moisture I am reflecting on these two worlds and wondering how to live more fully in the kind world of possibility- how to encourage and support others on their journey into the stormy land of a serious diagnosis, without evoking their shame puppets.