Tag Archive for: self-knowledge

“What do you do?” 
Such a standard question, whether we meet someone on an airplane or find
ourselves at a child’s Back-to-School Night or at a dinner party for our
partner.  Such a simple question
and so loaded. 
“I’m a writer and a mother of two.” That is my standard
answer, but it feels so inadequate. 
I am a product of my upbringing, a survivor of sexual abuse, a child of
divorce.  For years I looked
forward to becoming an adult so that I could free myself from my parents and
become less defined by them and their hold on me.  I looked forward to exploring the world and looking at
things in a new light and making decisions that would shape my future.  I wanted to fully blossom into the
person I was meant to be.
What I neglected to realize was that all of the ingrained
identity stories would come with me, packed snugly in whatever vessel I chose
to carry as I made my way in the world. 
Any decision I made hearkened back to the lessons I had learned, the
overarching messages I had heard over and over again, and the things I told
myself in an effort to make sense of the way my life was as a child.  No matter how “free” I thought I was,
making decisions I knew my parents would disapprove of or choosing things because
they were so vastly different from the choices they would have made, the fact
is that I was still shaped by my experiences with them.
Never did this realization hit me harder than the day I
found out I was going to have a baby. 
I was going to be a mother. And I vowed to make good, healthy choices. I
vowed to make decisions with more self-awareness than my parents had.  I vowed to be different.  And still, those notions of who I was
and wanted to be stemmed from the stories I told myself about where I came
Several years ago, I bumped up against these stories in a
hard way.  For most of my life,
they had been the levees on either side of my life path. Always present,
bounding my idea of who I was and leading me in a certain direction.  I moved forward, unquestioning,
frustrated by the limitations, but never truly understanding that these
boundaries were of my own making.
Today, as I meditated, a voice came to me that reminded me
of my own evolution. And I began to count the years that I have been things
other than what I grew up with. 
Eighteen years married to a loving, supportive man. Twelve years as the
mother of an energetic, open-hearted daughter.  Thirty years a writer. 
Three years a yoga practitioner. 
And for most of this time, I have been padding the scales on the other
side.  Thirty-two years a survivor
of sexual abuse. Thirty years a child of divorce.  Yes.  But those
things are no more indicative of who I am than the things toward which I am moving
and striving.  And their hold is
beginning to expire. The statute of limitations is running out.
I have heard that for every traumatic or negative thing that
happens to us as humans, it takes five positive experiences to counteract it.
Evolutionarily, that was important so that we would remember the harmful,
frightening things and not repeat them or put ourselves in danger.  When I think about it that way, I
realize that I have had so many more positive moments in my life that I chose
to live out within the boundaries of the “Who I Am” levee than it took to
actually construct those walls in the first place.  I am allowed to evolve. I am allowed to grow and add to the
list of “who I am.” I am allowed to strive for more and let those unhappy
definitions fall to the bottom where they belong.  There is no forgetting or negating the impact they had on
the person I am becoming, but there is also no reason to let them limit who I
can become.  Or who I am

Lao Tzu said, “When I let go of who I am, I become what I
might be.”  In giving myself
permission to expand the definition of who I am, I can begin to move past the
things that I have limited myself to for so many years.  When the levee walls fall away, the
possibilities are endless.
*This is one of several essays that appeared in the magazine BuddhaChick Life. As the magazine is no longer available, I’ve posted these here for readers to find.

“Our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.” Brene Brown

Oh.    Yeah.

We all want to belong. It is a basic human necessity to be part of something bigger than ourselves, even if it’s just a social group. We are wired to seek out others with whom to collaborate and communicate and once we have done that, we want to contribute.  But it’s hard to do that when we don’t feel like we are worthy of being a part of that group, even if we are good at faking it, because on some level, we can never let go and fully participate in that fully-immersed way that comes from NOT worrying about our performance or how others see us.

I have always had a bit of a sticking point with this.  And while I’ve gotten exponentially (no, really, light years ahead of where I was) better at it, I still have a hard time inserting myself into a group or proposing my own group and inviting others. It feels skeevy to me somehow, the same way going door-to-door selling magazine subscriptions did when I was a kid. Like I’m invading your space to convince you that you need something you probably really don’t and that makes me a complete asshat for taking up your time and making you feel guilty with my little-kid face at the door (especially if I’m your neighbor and every time you see me after that you’ll feel bad all over again).  Like that.

I had the enormous good fortune to be handed an epiphany yesterday that is helping me re-frame how I think about my way of engaging in the world.  Building on something that Carrie’s amazing astrologer told me a few months ago, Kris told me that she believes I generally only feel comfortable participating in a group when I am invited in.  She helped me to understand that this is not something to be ‘fixed’ or changed about me, it is simply the way I am designed.  The more I thought about it, the more sense it made to me.

I have spectacular hearing; a real champion eavesdropper.  But I would never overhear something and then ask you about it. Never.  I would also never inquire about something in your life that I feel is personal or none of my business unless you indicate to me that you want to talk about it.  I have several close friends who think nothing of probing for information, not in a mean or overbearing way, but in a genuinely caring, inquisitive way and I don’t think any less of them for it, it’s simply not who I am.  I always assumed that was because of the way I was raised, namely to always err on the side of being seen and not heard and that politeness is the most endearing feminine trait.

But if I look at my publishing successes this past year I see that they all were instances in which I responded to a call for submissions rather than writing something and going out to ‘sell’ it.

I am often shocked when I am invited to be part of a group in some sort of leadership capacity, but am much more likely to do that than I am to create a group based on my own agenda and thoughts or (gasp!) ask to join an already established group.  It is proving challenging to fight my immediate instinct that this need to be invited doesn’t represent a weakness, but I’m determined to do it because I can only imagine the possibilities if I can begin to accept this as a part of who I truly am and capitalize on it.

When I was a kid, I don’t think I thought much of aging. I can recall thinking that my grandparents were ancient and my parents were just plain old.  There wasn’t much worry of mortality in my worldview, but I do remember feeling lucky that I still had the majority of my life ahead of me, wide and expansive. Everyone said I could do whatever I wanted to, be whomever I chose (within limits – my father was a Marine and was big on personal responsibility and ‘doing the right thing’).  It seemed as though my parents’ lives were set in stone. Their careers chosen, families begun.  Other than maybe buying a new car every few years, how were their lives going to change much in the future?

That view was mostly reinforced by mass media – wrinkles were bad, anti-aging products and jazzercise were there to help you look younger and feel younger.  My mother’s contemporaries lied about their ages and winked, complimented each other on how ‘fresh’ they looked when they met at school events.  My father was obsessed with physical fitness and his vanity showed in his crisply ironed shirts and slacks. I blame the shiny shoes on the Marine Corps.  It’s no wonder I was convinced that being a kid was where it was at.

I don’t know whether things have changed significantly or if, now that I am older (‘old’ according to my child self) I am more prone to listening to the views of older generations, but it seems that despite the physical challenges, most of the folks I know enjoy their lives increasingly as they age.

“At twenty we worry about what others think of us; at forty we don’t care what others think of us; at sixty we discover they haven’t been thinking about us at all.” Author Unknown

At this point, I am firmly in the “don’t care what others think” phase of my life, at least chronologically. I will say that I have a completely different perspective on aging and while there are some things I don’t particularly appreciate like sporting both wrinkles and pimples, and discovering new grey hairs on a daily basis, I wouldn’t trade where I am for anything.  The notion of going back to childhood or puberty sounds atrocious and I’ve developed what I call the Horizontal Hourglass theory.

If you lay an hourglass on its side, you will notice two things right off the bat.  First, the sand stops running and settles with some in each of the large sections and a few grains in the chute between.  Second, the middle portion becomes a bridge or channel between the two ends.  That’s where I am right now.

The wide open area to the left represents my childhood, not bounded by any particular age range, but more by maturity. This was the time of my life when I could see that thin channel in the center but felt no particular push to get there. More than anything, I felt free to roam and explore, spread my wings and move around.  Once or twice, thanks to circumstances, I found myself shoved in to that center portion, my options diminished to three: forward, back or still. I felt trapped, panicked, out of control.  Somehow I always managed to find my way back to that child world view, seeking someone to take care of me while I licked my wounds and finding possibility for the future.

But at some point I moved in to that center portion voluntarily, choosing to pare down the boundaries of my world and focus my energies on parenting and working in a certain chosen field.  At this point, those close-in walls felt protective and safe.  I cocoon myself within, feeling a certain sense of relief at knowing that I don’t have to decide what I want to be when I grow up or which of the myriad exciting things in the world to devote my energies to. For now, my attention is on being the best parent to my children I can be and using any extra time I have to honing my writing skills and dedicating myself to causes for which I have passion.  It is freeing to be released from the extra noise and chatter of other things I don’t have energy for at this point in my life.

I can see ahead to a time when I will again forge ahead and live within the expansive space of the hourglass to the far right (politics notwithstanding – I’ll always lean ‘left’).  Once my children have moved into adulthood and become independent I foresee more freedom to structure my days.  I look at my in-laws in their retirement and marvel at the delicate dance they did during the first few years, trying to prioritize how to spend their time.  All of that freedom was disconcerting in the beginning and they had to negotiate preferences (he loves to travel, she wants to stay close to home) and find new activities to explore.

I think what I love best about this notion of aging is that I realize moving through each of the stages is less rigid and more voluntary than I used to think.  And while the wide open spaces at either end might initially sound preferable to the tight, sometimes gritty, quarters in the center, it is in this place where I have learned the most.  It is in this place where the sand sometimes rubs me raw as I grind against it that I have perspective on both sides of me.  Here is where I learned who I truly am and what is most important to me and what I am willing to give up to remain here.  Despite the fact that time marches on and I do continue to age in years, eventually getting to 50 or 60 or 70 years old, because the hourglass is resting on its side, I can choose when to emerge from any one section and move into another.  Right now, frankly, the endless possibilities to my right scare the hell out of me and I am perfectly content to stay where I am. I know that won’t always be true, and I am encouraged to know that, when I get there, instead of feeling as though my life is over, even if I suffer physical ailments, my options are many and I will emerge with the wisdom gleaned from years spent in the middle.