Finding North

Change/Transformation, Hard Stuff, Life, Obstacles/Challenges, service, Uncategorized

Today, my life re-oriented itself and I am renewed in purpose.  I had the enormous fortune to spend some time with a friend – one of those friends who is supportive but directive and says the really crucial stuff, sometimes the really hard stuff.  It was the equivalent of someone taking me by the shoulders and saying  “Look, what happened was painful and unexpected, and this path doesn’t get any easier.  you need to learn how to apply some of your skills to yourself, to be more objective about your successes and setbacks, and recognize your value and purpose. you are prepared and skilled and talented and your heart is big enough – time to move forward again.”

And she’s right.  What I’d forgotten, what my time at DOC had hacked away, is my desire to be of service.  For almost two decades, the question that has driven me is “how can I best be of service?”  I haven’t always known this question was pushing me onward, although the pattern of seeking some answer is obvious in my choices of education, career, and interests.  And to be clear, I’m not entirely thrilled about having discovered the question.  I’ve been fighting the knowledge for a while, wanting some acknowledgement for what I’d already done, the service I’d already given.

I was so tired, so exhausted, so beaten down by the endless need and casual, normalized brutality of the prison system that I couldn’t tolerate the thought of more service.  I couldn’t tolerate giving more of myself and getting nothing in return.  The final defeat was when I was being targeted by DOC.  My employer never acknowledged my service, my value, or that they cared about my situation or me.  That was crushing.  To have worked for them for so long, doing such difficult work, and be pushed aside, so casually and thoughtlessly, was a terrible experience.  My desire to serve was profoundly wounded, and I couldn’t imagine ever putting myself back into that arena.

Unfortunately, purpose doesn’t really work that way.

Even if my conscious mind couldn’t bear to think of being in service, the rest of me knew the deal.  I focused on private industry, found a job, and all was well with the world.  Until two weeks ago when, out of the blue, with no explanation, they let me go.  I was thrown into the perpetual chaos, confusion, and uncertainty of looking for work, again, in a very tight market.

I was also faced, AGAIN, with the question of what did I want for myself, what kind of life did I want to live?  Not once, but twice in a six month period I found myself asking the same round of questions, looking at the same batch of answers, and questioning my sanity.  Why would this happen twice?  Why would I be forced into this process twice, in such a short period of time?  What the fuck was I supposed to learn?  Sweet baby christmas, how much reflection was I supposed to do before the light came on?

Of course, I was far too close to see the answer, even though it was probably obvious to everyone else.  Everything in my life is about being of service.  Hell, every single idea I’ve had about starting my own business is based in service to others through education, creativity, or advocacy.  My reading, my art, my writing, it’s all grounded in the desire to serve, to help others be the best they can.

I was hoping for a different answer.  I tried to redirect my ambition in other directions, but it literally didn’t fit.  My ego, my intellect, wants a bigger presence, accolades, acknowledgment, praise, the recognition I see going to others who do work I admire. But that’s not why they do the work and, ultimately, not why I will continue doing that work.

We do it because it’s who we are.  We came here to serve, to be of service, to lift others and, in turn, be lifted.  As Gandhi said “we find ourselves in service to others.” This clarity doesn’t mean my desire for recognition has magically disappeared, it just means it isn’t driving the bus anymore.  I’ve found my north again.

Nothing-Liberates-Our-Greatness-Like-The-Deisre-To-Help-The-Desire-To-Serve.

 

 

Vacation Time

Creative, Laughter, Life, Obstacles/Challenges, Uncategorized, Writing

The last two months have been a combination of incredibly stressful and oddly blissful.  I unexpectedly lost my job, have started to revitalize the toxic wasteland prison life created in my soul, have found space and time for creative endeavors, socializing, and even an occasional date.  Despite all of these unexpected benefits or, perhaps, because of them, I found myself freaking out on more than one occasion.  To clarify – the freakouts happened INSIDE my head, which makes me quite proud.  Because no one wants that level of crazy happening In Real Life – no one.

Last week, the level of Inside Insanity reached a new height and I decided that I Had Had Enough.  The rampaging, never-ending merry-go-round of ruminations, fears, projections, assumptions, worst case scenarios, *every* case scenarios, and constant attempts to foresee every possible circumstance in order to have a defense ready was O.V.E.R.  I was lying (or laying) in bed and could feel my brain juices whirling around and around and around and around, the spin cycle on the washer going fasterfasterfasterfaster until everything disintegrated.

So I decided to send Fear on a vacation.

I very gently told poor, shivering, nearly senseless Fear that she could take some time off, get a tan, drink some margaritas, and enjoy white sand and blue oceans for a while.  “I’ll keep things going while you’re on break” I assured her, stroking her sweaty, crusty hair, “It’ll be okay, we can get along for a bit without you.”  She was reluctant, and it took a few days and several false starts, but she eventually headed out, luggage in tow.  She’s dropped an occasional postcard, but it seems that taking some time for herself was just what we all needed.

And holy shit is my life better.  Sending that cray cray on vacay was the best decision I’ve made in a LONG time! Not that she isn’t helpful from time to time, and I know she has my survival and protection always on her mind, but DAMN – that girl can freak the fuck out like nobody’s business!

I know she’ll come back eventually, probably when the next new thing comes along, but I believe our time apart is making our relationship more healthy.  I know I feel more capable of setting good boundaries with her, not letting her get so caught up that she’s not giving anyone else a chance to take the wheel.  She means well, but she’s high maintenance and I just don’t have time for that right now.  Here’s to hoping the vacation lasts a long long time.

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The truth in practice

Change/Transformation, Classroom/Curricula, Reflection, Uncategorized, Writing

When I discovered Karen Armstrong’s “12 Steps to a Compassionate Life (book and a summary),” I knew I had found my framework for living an ethical, meaningful life.  As I read and re-read the words of those who have influenced me most (bell hooks, Riane Eisler, Ron Miller, Betty Reardon, Shawn Ferch, Stephen Covey, Dr. King, Ghandi, Christ, and so many others), I am pierced to my soul, again and again.  They all say the same thing, the same thing their mentors, muses, and guides said, and those before them:

Be kind to one another.

That’s it.  That’s the message that matters, and it’s the one we most often disregard.  Yesterday, I had one of the best conversations with my students I think we’ve ever had.  We were discussing the 5th Habit (from “7 Habits of Highly Effective People“), “Seek First to Understand,” and we explored so many areas.  We discussed why we don’t try to understand, what it feels like to be mean in comparison to being kind, why we are afraid to be kind, what it means to have never received empathy, the nature of ethical character, the feelings that form the foundations for both meanness and kindness, the criticality of self-awareness and self-honesty, and the truth that being kind is a practice.

Kindness is both a skill and a frame of mind and being that we can actively cultivate and practice.  It isn’t an accident, a happy mischance or inborn talent.  It takes constant work and attention to practice kindness and compassion, to build the internal strength and fortitude necessary to maintain its gentleness in the face of cruelty and brutality.  But, as with any skill, habit, or practice, it is our choice to continue or not.  It is my hope that they will continue their practice, for the rest of their lives.

Every time I think about these conversations, about how I came to this point in my life and the potential for the futures of these women, I possessed by feelings of such immensity and power that I have to breathe deeply and allow them to pass through, around, over.  I believe these are moments of alignment, when my heart, mind, body, and spirit are perfectly in tune with our universal purpose.  In my more calm and accepting moments, I am humbled by my journey – how each phase of my life prepared me to be this person, to care for these women, to bring something meaningful into this world.

I spent so many years of my life with no purpose, not knowing what purpose meant, or that I might seek and find such a thing. It would be easy to spend time regretting all those ‘lost’ years, but I can’t.  Without remembering those meaningless years, my current state would lose much of its richness.  Neale Donald Walsch wrote, in one of the “Conversations with God” books “First, you must be who you are NOT in order to be who you ARE.” I believe this is true for both myself and for my students.  More than I, more than most of us could ever know, they have been who they are NOT.

Now, they will get the chance to show us who they ARE.