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what did yalom say?

Death.

Yesterday I had some fall-out in my heart and I knew it must be real as I ran my fastest mile yet at 6:33.  Not fast in the world of fasties but showing me my own propensity to run away from my problems.  I start to kick up my feet as fast as I can and reach my elbows out ready for the inevitable crash down a dirt road.  Forever trying to get back in my body I start yoga in savasana—corpse pose.  All of yoga is preparation to finish class in this same pose.  Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.  Death anxiety forces us to the place of business thinking.  The thinking that dictates if I just find that right person, that right job, that right mountain, that right adventure, I will be complete.  Completeness seems to lie in taking in life on life’s terms knowing we are all somehow failing horribly and also creating beauty beyond the ways that we can see and think about.

Finitude.

There are limits and bounds on life.  This life will end.  There are limits and bounds on the current state of how one is feeling as well.  The sun will set on the horizon of knowledge, there is no absolute trust and thinking in absolutes is pretentious.  The acknowledgement that we are finite and limited beings thrown into a time and place discredits that there is any ultimate truth.  What is truth now may not have been truth then and future truths are unknown.  There is no ultimate reality.  Objects in reality are relative to the subjects perceiving them. We comprehend with finite apprehension.  Chaos that is incomprehensible underlies every aspect of empirical constancy.  Chaos itself, rather than ideology, God, or even the visible world is the only determinable absolute.

Responsibility.

I’ve made poor choices in my life.  Recently, I made a few big ol’ poor ones.  I’ve made mistakes in shifting that responsibility to events out of my control and thusly I feel out of control.  Love did not make me do this or that, geography can only have so much bearing on my actions.  I am who I choose to be and no past or future event is responsible for that choice.  Bad faith is thinking my childhood made me a broken being and leads me to pretend that I have no option than to be who I have become.  This creates evasion from responsibility and a sense of loss.  I am just the product of the chaos around me.  Think of the discord of the Christian who has lost his faith.  Or the devoted wife who has lost her love for her husband.  The academic who thinks they must toil ten or twelve hours a day in research and publications.  The lawyer pleading his guilty client’s innocence.  The basic refusal to face the fact that all of these situations can be other than how they are.  There is responsibility in choice.

Loneliness.

The sacred path is a lonely one.  To embrace one’s true nature is scary like swimming upstream.  The chest can feel like one is drowning.  To feel unconnected and unlike others creates great anxiety.  It comes not from lacking people or objects but from truly facing what and who one is.  There is a myth that we can expand in our power to defeat life’s hurdles—death, disease, decay the entire time trying to hide our carefully tucked away loneliness. Embracing one’s full self will only serve to create loneliness which seems so shameful we choose not to share our pain, our deep fears, our deep crustiness that fuels us to do unspeakable things.  Our pursuit of love, companionship, marriage, denies the basic precept that we are born alone, we will die alone.

Suffering.

We can tolerate all sorts of suffering as long as we can create meaning.  That car wreck was chaos but there is choice in the response to stimulus.  My Dad died in a tragic manner but it set in motion a series of events that let me create meaning through becoming a counselor, examining deep and moving grief.  Some ways of making meaning can be positive and others terribly negative.  There will be no clear end to any suffering but there will be a clear end to becoming a victim of circumstance.  That happened because of this and this is how I will respond.  In suffering there is the uncomfortable motivation to change to move toward calm, peace, shed the pelt of anxiety.

Meaninglessness.

The ultimate nihilistic grappling.  Anxiety, apathy, alienation, nihilism, avoidance, shame, addiction, despair, depression, guilt, anger, rage, resentment, embitterment, purposelessness, madness (psychosis) and violence all create this sense of victimhood.  Why did this happen this way?  I experienced some extreme meaninglessness after changing careers and taking a trip down that road of the gypsy life.  Fun for now, depression and emptiness later.  This feeling that can a sense of being stuck in an ice tray ready to plop out into the next chaotic event.  Or, it can spur the need to create meaning in chaos, to choose how to fill up that ice tray again and use the cubes to quell that fire of the soul that will always evoke change.

Evil and demonic.

Some things, some folks, some events—are evil.  Not bad, just evil.  It is what it is.  Not an act or pattern, sin or crime, but rather what leads us to damage, be damaged, and suffer pain.  Social destructiveness.  Evil could be considered the thing that inhibits personal growth and expansion.  The acts that limit potentiality, curtails freedom, fragments the personality, diminishes interpersonal relationships.  But it is somehow needed to change.  Well that was certainly evil and I’ll not do that again.  Denying evil is denying one’s existence.  To embrace our own evil qualities is to embrace them in others not to fully eradicate that which is unpleasant but integrate into this ride of life.  Evil creates the angst that moves the train of change forward down never-ending tracks.

 

 “Life is a spark between two identical voids, the darkness before birth and the one after death.”

― Irvin D. Yalom, When Nietzsche Wept

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blue-collar sensibility

My Dad and I often fought because unlike the other kids in the house I would argue tooth and nail on principals I upheld—like I should be able to go out late because how else will I learn to make choices?  There was one particularly heated fight and I went downstairs to my room to blast whatever awful music I listened to at the time and Dad came tearing down the stairs and ripped the entire door off its hinges.  I simply glared at him over my book of poetry by Jim Morrison and said, “it was unlocked, jeez.”

Dad was the archetypal blue collar worker.  He wore one of his 3 pairs of Wranglers 30 by 32, a pocket shirt of which he had about 7, a brown worn leather belt, and generally a ball cap with some fishing logo or maybe the name of the mine he at which he worked.  He changed positions a few times working in the coal mine after starting out in a uranium mine in Douglas, WY.  He did a stint in the oil field—his father and two uncles had started “Triple B Energy” in Gillette, WY where they had learned the trade after some semesters at Texas A&M.

Uncle Joe was a self-made chemical engineer or “mud mixer” as its called in the field creating a concoction of chemicals designed to keep the walls of hundreds feet deep drill site from collapsing. Grandpa Loy was more of the talker and business man of the group, in his later life selling cars for a living showing off that Southern sweet talk and charm.  My other Great Uncle, Doyle, was less involved living in New Mexico working for NASA for the latter part of his life.  I remember him clearly, he was in a wheelchair.  When he was younger, he got polio and used plastic straws he kept in his breast pocket to type out his notes on a computer he had configured to fit his shriveled body.  I would become so angry when folks looked at him as we tooled around the southwest—he’s smart, don’t you know?!

Some 13 million Americans have managed to move from their blue-collar upbringing to a while-collar world and while class mobility seems to hearken to the American Dream and is generally applauded in the symbolic way—there are lasting consequences.  It must have been summer of my sophomore year or so and Dad and I were once again arguing on principal.  I had become more proficient at this during my college experience.  Disagreements were now an area of growth—I saw these talks as ways to try to open his mind to what I was learning at college—how to think in the grey, how to listen to all sides of a thought and use my own skills of deduction to formulate my world.  Dad became more and more frustrated and then eventually said out loud “you are wasting your time, you’ll never make as much as me.”  I had to let that statement sink in.  He might be right. But is that really why I was getting my Bachelors of Arts in English?  To make money?

My parents were able to afford to pay for my room and board the first year of college.  I lived in the dorms, Orr Hall, and still look back fondly on those years.  I met many life-long friends at the smokers bench by McIntyre Hall where we would meet before meals walking out of the cafeteria smiling with ice cream cones we would feed to the fat, tame squirrels that lived in the tall pines by Fraternity and Sorority Row.  I had managed to get a scholarship for 4 years of tuition as one of the top 5% of scholars in the state.  I hadn’t hardly applied to any colleges, much less done any scholarships.  Senior year was a time of addictions and moving in and out of my house.  This scholarship seemed like a fluke but I thought I better try it out—if nothing else than to prove my Dad wrong.

I may or may not make more than my Dad in my life—I feel myself headed there and am painfully aware of being the 10% here in Pagosa Springs—most of my friends in small business or the service industry working 2 or 3 jobs to pay rent in a place they live with several other roommates.  Then, there are the white collar retirees who the blue collar folks cater to—a nice restaurant here, $70,000 for a nice new overlook structure painting a portrait of a town that appreciates finer architecture and place where Texans might buy your art.  But, mobility here is highly unlikely.  The college nearby, Fort Lewis, has gained the name “Fort Leisure” and doles out liberal arts and education degrees with the promise of Straddler status—rising from the woods of Southwest Colorado to get a corporate job on the Front Range.  I don’t know if that even happens.  The salary may increase with education, but us blue collar folks may never speak the language of the privileged.

I feel a real sense of fragmentation sometimes.  Here I am, with my Masters of Science, which means something to me and meant something in higher education—the industry I recently vacated to try my hand at professional counseling.  I try to avoid the inevitable “when did you get to Pagosa, what do you do” talks because I feel hyper-aware of my self-imposed status.  I can hardly speak the nuances of a while collar existence but my blue collar roots seems to create suspicion as well.  I usually rely on the old geographical class mobility—oh I’m from Wyoming I’m a good ol’ boy (girl).  But I know secretly that if I comment on politics in a way that is non-polarizing—I might be shunned.  I’m not quite the liberal retiree speaking of Trumps evil, but I’m also not the conservative leaning fishing guide still obsessed with land ownership as another vehicle of hopping social classes.  An imposter in both worlds.

I didn’t walk in graduation for either my bachelors or my masters.  I didn’t know if my family would come.  And I certainly didn’t feel that they knew what I had accomplished.  From the outside, it may have looked like I spent 4 years drinking and reading poetry and then 2 years in my masters learning the language of empathy which I’m sure most homemakers like my Mom would attest is something that can be done in child-rearing.  I was the first in the family (in this generation) to achieve both degrees with a first cousin obtaining her law degree from Tulane.  We had done it.  But there are still certain things I won’t talk about if I ever were to visit Texas again and hit up the family reunion.  I won’t share my postmodern theories of classism, I won’t speak at length about racism, hegemony, or eco-feminism which I still use as a framework to view the world.  But these are the topics that set me apart and let me mingle with the white collar folks of academia. They just want brilliance and it can come from many different roots.

I think my Dad and I could argue because of the blue-collar existence.  We weren’t too worried about keeping up appearances.  I never remember one BBQ or dinner party hosted at my parents house.  My Dad has the same 3 piece suit he wore to church, weddings, funerals.  My Dad worked 12 hours shifts at the coal mine toward the end of his life, added to a 3 hour commute to get the mine 70 miles away.  When I was younger he would come home with black-coal eyeliner and his fingers dirty making me think he actually dug coal for a living.  Later, he would shower at the mine and the only evidence of hard labor was his pink-red eyes, slanted from the tiring physical work he had been doing his whole life.  A damn hard worker.  And so I still continue to work hard and grapple with my straddle status.  I have retirement, insurance, benefits.  But I still try to remember my roots and bear the load of paying for most of my education.  In theory I may have crossed social classes but in reality I will pay for my status forever.

“Social class counts at the office, even though nobody likes to admit it. Ultimately, corporate norms are based on middle- and upper-class values, business types say. From an early age, middle-class people learn how to get along, using diplomacy, nuance, and politics to grab what they need. It is as though they are following a set of rules laid out in a manual that blue-collar families never have the chance to read.”

-Alfre Lubrano, Limbo: Blue Collar Roots, White Collar Dreams

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positive regard

I woke up sweaty and feeling pieces of pork in my belly from my emotional eating fest that I sometimes take to late at night. Shoving rigid, burnt, pieces of dry chops into my mouth to fill my empty belly hoping somehow the nourishing chunks will reach my heart. I smell the scent of my own sweat happy now that it doesn’t bug me. I pick up my sweatshirt lying curled on the floor and take a whiff of faint perfume and dryer sheets still hanging around even though I quit my practice of using like fifty every drying cycle. Maybe I am growing.

I felt like myself, writing again about the larger world not just my soul in and out of love. I stepped out of my house so thankful for a space with two floors still feeling guilty I don’t use my yoga studio as much as I’d like. Then, I glance at my plants in the corner feeling warm at the metaphor for growth–long vines curing sideways and up, pink green leaves and primary color pots. If these plants can grow without my knowing anything about good soil, Latin names, lighting–then I can grow in an environment where I try mountain biking for the first time, skiing, boating. A little droopy at first, I’ve taken root and no longer worry about how I’ll do in a small town. Turns out I’ll be just fine.

Fine as frog hair I can hear the chirping of crickets and croaks of frogs outside my back deck lips tilting into a smile because I have created exactly what I want. I’m on the trails everyday–exploring my inner and outer worlds. There are a few things, though, that have been pointed out that I would like to change. I check on Strava and see that one of my running partners has gone back to improve on my special loop. I start the cycle of run anxiety–I need to beat them! These thoughts are self-defeating as I’ve never done to well in the physical arena at competition. I remember the summer of 15,000 basketball shots–I improve through repetition and tiny little shifts in my thought process.

How do people change? I don’t think they change by making promises regarding past or future situations. Expectations can kill the change process and I believe only when a person can be their complete, crusty, loving, stinky, gorgeous selves can they start to make changes towards who they want to be. I sometimes get muscles cramps in my feet and legs and instead of curling up and moaning about the tenseness I step right into the pain. Pull back toes, step back on the calf, go right into the tenseness. It takes a lot to rebuild trust like peeling a mango and trying to find the giant seed-nut inside and trusting that while some of the tender sweet flesh will remain on the rind and seed what’s inside is worth the work.

I change my mind a lot about what I want in love. I have gained so much insight this year. I need humor, I need long talks and discourse that helps me to challenge or accept my position on any number of issues. And I am allowed to change my mind–to uphold some liberal ideas and still cling to my Wyoming cord with rights and liberties guaranteed to the individual.  And I can choose to completely disengage knowing that the personal is political and the way I live my life is the most convincing evidence of what I believe.  I want passion–not just passion between two mounds of flesh but passion to grow one another like wilted plants, hard mangoes, fatigued quad muscles ready to mend into stronger versions of trees clomping up a mountain. I want to change in the gray tick tocking until I slow down in the middle space that fits my soul in the present moment.

We all encounter our mirrors in life, sometimes in nature, sometimes in objects, sometimes in others. I can make a choice to see my positive aspects in the mirror–still aware of my black and white thinking, my strong nose, my horse teeth, my bird nest hair. What I have found in others is my humor, my pragmatism, my ability to see past behaviors that are really just a mask. I feel some friction in my life like wearing running shoes with no socks, tiny rocks of incongruence press into the tender fleshy part of my foot and I have the tools to end the friction, to find a new pair of shoes I can wear for the next 500 miles.   And with a tender foot, I can take one step at a time.

“I am increasingly an architect of self. I am free to will and choose. I can, through accepting my individuality… become more of my uniqueness, more of my potentiality.”

-Carl Rogers

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60 degrees

I sat outside my therapist’s office today and for the first time I realized that the brown shapes and figures on the wall were not construction on the building but were mountains.   Light brown mountains with a silhouette of tan and then a final layer of dark brown mountains.  I sat breathing and thinking about the mountains and why I had come to Colorado.  I came for the gorgeous outdoors.  I came for my spirituality and to further my career.  I didn’t expect to walk away from higher education and move to be a play therapist in a tiny town called Pagosa.  But here I am with mountains on the wall, mountains outside, and mountains in my heart.

I think about my life right now—in construction.  I’m framing out my neck, trunk, arms, legs, head, heart, and soul to become able to withstand the weight of the trauma and shitstorm that will always come.  There will always be a mountain to climb.  I can’t stop the storm that may happen on the mountain but I can stop aligning with the weather.  I can stop running into an open field or climbing higher and higher when I see lightening.  But right now, things are exposed to the elements.  There’s a cold breeze in my heart from all the times I’ve loved and lost. From grief and death.  Suicide.  There’s a dark storm of my thoughts beating down from the pain I create in my borderline states.  The waves of my insults to myself and others come crashing down the minute I cannot self-regulate.

I order a heart monitor thingy online suggested in my therapy session that measures my heartbeat as I move through different states.  Eventually, when the cat pukes on the floor or my lover threatens to hurt me because my crazy shit provoked anger, I just remember that pleasant green light I created with my calm heartbeat and exactly how I got there.  I’ve gotten there before—in yoga, in pilates, in the mountains, on the trails.  These things aren’t just my hobbies–they are my screwdriver, saw, drill, hammer, level, square, wrench.  I came to Colorado to access more tools, bigger tools, the mountains, the trails, the community of people who know how to use the metaphorical hammer of the outdoors.

And so here I am building the a-frame of Jen.  Something I have always wanted to do—build an a-frame.  And now I am the carpenter of my own life.  I can assemble the tools and materials with help from all those who already accept the shitty trailer house of my heart going on faith that I want to get better. The rafters of calm and contentment in equal measure will be set at angles of 60 degrees to one another.  Leaning on each other and the foundation of safety I have created from my core being.   I can then frame the doors and windows to let others see my home, see my heart, and let others enter here.  It will no longer be a place filled with sorrow and sadness.  Those things no longer have a place in the a-frame of my being.

I can see my home now.  Tucked away in southwest Colorado built on the dreams of play therapy and healing.  You will know it’s my home because it will shine in the night and beckon in the day.  The light of the peace and contentment that I cultivate will draw in wild animals, good weather, help to grow a garden, nourish my domestic animals, keep the stove warm.  You will see flowers growing all around for medicine, water flowing for healing. In that home will be me full of love and light breathing through any more pain that comes up.  I will know that this home is strong, sturdy, and that I built this serene space with my own two hands and with my own one heart.

Whatever good things we build end up building us.

-Jim Rohn