a mind slip into a spiritual awakening

alain de botton SOM

For now, I don’t have to pay attention to these sounds.

The sounds from the street outside. The squealing of brake dust. The release of air brakes. Engines revving and zooming away. Cars, SUVs, school buses, vans, delivery trucks, tow trucks–all a part of the noise that can inhabit my street.

It was all in fear of having my car taken back by the lender. Months of straining my ears to hear what was going on, along with sometimes obsessively looking in the driveway to see if my car was still there. I had started to not do this so much anymore.

But then when it happened last Thursday morning, I was dead asleep for once. It was the best sleep I had had in weeks, especially since one chronically coughing old man had moved out and another chronically coughing old man moved in earlier this month.

I thought I was on top of things, but it feels like my car, again, slipped through my fingers. I thought I had paid this month and I hadn’t. I never forget paying bills, so why, on such a precarious precipice, would I forget this month?

I found out about the repo because I was going to go get some breakfast and was bounding outside the door to see my worst fear had happened. It was startling. I’m glad I didn’t see it because it may have broken me. It’s like my car vanished into thin air.

I instantly slammed the door (nosy neighbor across the street) and took off my sunglasses and started walking back to my room. I knew what to do, since my life has seemingly bounced from one crisis to the next. Get in touch with the harassing lender and find out what I needed to do.

Unlike last time, they are not asking for the whole loan. They just want the past due payments plus what I think it some towing and storage fees. It’s about $1600. If I can’t get it by this Saturday, then it’s $2000 until the 10th. I have time, but time is slippery.

Whether I get to keep my car (fundraiser here) or not doesn’t even seem to be the point. It’s been an odd spiritual awakening–but then aren’t they all odd? Even if you go seeking out a spiritual awakening, how it’s triggered is never in the way you’d expect or arrange for yourself. So here are a few things that I’ve learned in the past few days.

My online community may not be as strong as I thought it was. I was just telling a friend online today that Twitter isn’t the same anymore. I’ve tweeted out this fundraiser hundreds of times since November and it just hasn’t gotten far. There could be a number of reasons why, but I realize that these connections, although some of them are great, are a bit tenuous. It’s the largest one I have, but it’s not the same as an offline community. I’ve come to peace that my financial instability makes it hard to have an offline community, but the online one not being so hot either? It’s sobering, and slowly devastating. But online life is changing, so it’s hard to

I am really not my circumstances, and I really believe it now. For some reason, having and owning a car seemed to be some point of pride for me, but connected to #1, no one really cares either way, so why should I? I had been listening to Paula Cole last week and I love her song, “Me,” and here is the first verse:

I am not the person who is singing,
I am the silent one inside.
I am not the one who laughs at people’s jokes,
I just pacify their egos.
I am not my house, my car or my songs,
They are only stops along my way.
I am like the winter, I’m a dark cold female,
With a golden ring of wisdom in my cave.

I’m not any of my possessions or my bank account–I can get Fight Club about it, too, but really–I’m none of these things. I’m not even any community. I’m me. So it’s not about the car, especially since this happened in a sort of surprising, out-of-character way. I’m not seeking a lesson to soothe myself. I’m seeking the lesson to evolve–or the lesson is seeking me. Or both.

Another great quote on this topic, by poet Nayyirah Waheed: “Where you are is not who you are.”

I am not alone. And this has to do with the spiritual realm. There are angels, spirit guides, and ancestors all with me, cheering me on, providing comfort and guidance. Maybe starting last Friday or Saturday, it really became apparent that this car that I had been so tightly holding onto–and for good reason because there is no real reliable public transit–is gone for now, but it’s not the end of the world. I have faced the end of the world before and overcame it.

I have many people praying for me, people I don’t even know (I asked a lot of contemplative nuns to pray for me–it’s their job!). The mystery of prayer is one I want to delve back into. It helps me not to sit in a stressed out state, thinking that worry is some sort of work (it is and it isn’t). I gave this up to the Universe to handle and then it made me realize…

Although I ask for help often now, I don’t ask for spiritual assistance enough. And I really should. Sure, I consult my astrological transits and tarot cards, but I don’t do enough of, “Universe, I’m struggling with this. Can you help me?” I kind of threw the prayer bathwater out with the evangelical baby, but I have since reclaimed it

Even though I’m not sure how this will turn out, I keep getting messages about not losing faith, not giving up, about believing, about asking for what I want. I’m swimming in some deep, spiritually synchronistic waters, and I have been changed. Last time when I lost my car, it was just anguish. This time, I can see how much I’ve spiritually grown to where I know that although my social life is non-existent, I still have everything I need to get out of this jam.

Maybe it’ll look like a different car, or no car for some time, or I’ll get the money in time. I know what I’ve asked for and I believe the best will happen for me. Even when I waver with doubts, I can ask, “Universe, help me with the doubt!” And it works!

As I have gone after my dream of becoming a writer, I have it not “together” for years. But, I’m so grateful that I’m finally able to draw the line between me and my circumstances. I’m even loved and supported through my circumstances, loved and supported through the shame of my circumstances, and loved and supported despite my circumstances.

I am not my smoker’s cough roommate or my small bedroom or the increasingly dirty kitchen stained with coffee or my empty driveway or the rebel flag I have to drive past every time I leave this neighborhood.

I am not the paranoid listener of the streets outside.

I’m me, and I deserve love, compassion, and help.

 

 

A Lenten Season of Self-Kindness

So I was gonna give up Twitter for Lent.

I never grew up with Lent being a part of my Christian faith journey. Non-denominational, evangelical churches are not about High Church/mainline church traditions, or the Christian calendar, except for Christmas and Easter. I was exposed to Lent while attending a Covenant church in Chicago. The Covenant Church–specifically the Evangelical Covenant Church–is a Swedish offshoot of the Lutheran church. Hello, mainline church.

One time, I gave up chocolate. It was the one year that my co-worker brought into the office Frango Mints chocolates from Marshall Fields. Assorted flavors. Yet I resisted. I have tried to give up cursing. That didn’t really work. I can’t remember how long I lasted. Although, I can say that it’s not necessarily about being successful. No, my inner perfectionist would love to wear a badge of honor that says that I made it through a chocolate-free Lent. From what I understand, it’s more about the forty-day journey of temptation and reliance on God’s power and strength while embracing one’s frailty and humanity.

Or something like that.

After a few years of giving up church of all kinds, I’m back in church, doing a bit of social media for an emerging not-church service on Saturday nights as well as the actual church. Oops. Probably can’t give up Twitter–’tis my (volunteer) job.

But I haven’t tweeted since Tuesday (Mardi Gras), which is fine, I guess. Right now, I’m working on some technical writing and I have to learn about some technology and read pages and pages of text just to write one page of text. And right now, I would be twitter-bitching my way through this, without any sort of response from my followers.

And that’s actually what I want to give up, for good–this need for a response.

I’ve been on Twitter since 2008 (I think?) and it’s exposed some things about me. I have this human flaw, though: I want to connect with other human beings. I have another one: I want to share what’s going on with me. Twitter may or may not let those “flaws” flourish. Lately, I’d say it’s made my humanness feel like it’s a flaw altogether. It’s not.

Within the past six months, I have endured so many excruciatingly painful, dehumanizing events, with increasing intensity and insanity. The cliche of “the dark night of the soul” doesn’t even come close to describing what’s gone on and goes on. It’s more like camping out in the valley of the shadow of death. I’ll be grateful when this indefinite camping trip is over, and I’ll be grateful about how I’m even stronger and more resilient. Oh, I can’t wait for the glory of hindsight. I can see many silver linings which are almost enough to distract me like a toddler is distracted by a shiny object from the godawfulness of life. But I cannot give anymore public dispatches from my time there. As immediately accessible Twitter has been for sharing these things, what has not been healthy for me is taking the abysmal silence that my candor draws at all personally, or taking it at all.

This week, I read an excellent article in the The New York Times, “How to Be a Friend in Deed,” about how people are so godawful at helping people who are in crisis, and how not to be one of those godawful people. And there are so many people who suck at this, more than those who don’t. This confirmed what I experienced in grad school and afterwards. So maybe instead of insanely thinking that people will change their responses, can change. But I can only change so much.

As a writer, I was wondering why I couldn’t convey my suffering in some compelling, actionable way, even as I came to grips that I did need, and still need, help. It’s not just Twitter. It’s even meaningful Facebook groups that are created for this very type of support. I could deconstruct this, especially along racial lines, but there’s nothing that I can do about my melanin count. I could talk about the cult of personality, about popularity, about beauty about how all of these inane things that I have no control over and have nothing to do with me. I continue to drop my bucket into an empty well and hope that somehow, some day, I’ll draw water.

What can I do about it? Share the suffering offline, with way fewer people–probably with as many people that I can count on one hand. I have that many people and I don’t need to expand that number. Keep taking one foot in front of the other, even though almost every day, I see absolutely no point in doing so. Be my own best cheerleader, and be OK with being my own cheerleader, especially when I am alone.

So I’ll be back on Twitter in a bit, because I do need to to bitch about the minutiae and detritus about life, just not my actual life. The transparency that I’ve lead my life with has gotten me more enemies than friends. Transparency is valuable, but costly. And there really is nothing wrong with having a little more opacity, a little more mystery, a little more safety.

Social media can be the worst listener, the most inconsistent therapist, and the flakiest best friend. And it wasn’t always this way. I grew up with this medium throughout my whole adult life (since 1997). Throughout the past two decades, it’s grown increasingly fractured because there are more and more people using it. Sure, it’s an early adopter’s lament.  Still, all that means is that I can use this goofy medium for what it is good for in my life right now: livetweeting shows, learning about all sorts of things, breaking news, watching celebrities self-immolate by their own words, and shooting the shit.

Adjusting those pesky expectations–or not having any at all: this would be my nirvana. Instead of abolishing Twitter for forty days, I can just let it be what it is. I can use Lent as a way to start something new and healthy for myself, as a season of self-inquiry. How can I keep and better value my depth for myself? How can I engender true and safe reciprocity of sharing in healthier ways with better kept boundaries? How can I vanquish the overshare demons? Not to sound like Gwyneth Paltrow, but how I can be more conscious online, instead of just mindlessly typing things?

The past few months have been a long lesson in learning how to be less severe with myself, and then, being less severe with others. And that is good, so very good. It is a goodness I hope to continue to be lead and purified by. This censoring isn’t a deprivation, but a necessary practice and celebration of self-kindness.

If you do practice Lent, I pray it’s one of new-found self-compassion, self-love, and boundless grace.