I was about to lead a group. I came into the day room. A bit nervous but confident in the material, no big deal. She came up to me, angry and tearful, she was angry at me. I had turned off the phones in the room from the office, cut off her conversation with her husband who was calling in Iraq. I ended their conversation. She made her point to me, I had ruined her phone call. I tried to fix it, nervously telling her maybe she could call him back, she can use one of the phones. It was a weak, scared attempt to fix. She walked away tearful, me left in front of several of the patients in the room who are waiting for me to lead the group. I was exposed, in the wrong. I felt like shit. I felt like an idiot, unable to fix, stupid, inconsiderate. I'm an idiot. I'm an idiot. I'm an idiot.
So harsh. So harsh. The me inside of me wanted to punish. I will make up for it by berating. I will do whatever you ask of me. I will suffer, I will be nothing, just to make things nice again, just to not look like an ass.
I'm not worth paying attention to now. Why am I leading this group. They won't want to pay attention to me....
Wait. Wait. Wait. Slow down. Slow down. Slow.
Look at me. Look into my eyes. Look slowly, softly. Feel. Don't spin. Feel.
Have I not already told you? Have I not made it so evident? You will fail. You will be stupid, you will be an idiot, you will be an ass. You will be an ass. Thank you Jesus you will be an ass. An ass can know forgiveness. A tightass who has everything together doesn't. When you berate yourself, when you punish yourself and try to fix, you deny my Cross.
Somewhere out of what I have known, a strong feeling, a rush of grace, came in. I made a mistake, but it would not require me to berate my very dignity as a human being any longer.
He will never break your dignity. He may break you. He may call you out. It may hurt. You may have done something foolish, stupid. You may have been an idiot. Your nature is not idiocy. He will never degrade your humanity.
He will never be reckless with your spirit. He will never abuse your spirit. He will only be reckless in his pursuit, in doing everything, whatever He can to get through deaf ears. His reckless pursuit has a strength that is so soft, it will break and then hold every piece, have every piece held and known so deeply, He could never forget one piece. He is not violent. He is not an abuser. He is fierce. Fierce in softness.
I wanted to abuse. I wanted to berate. I wanted to kill my spirit. I was spinning. I was in need of slowing down. I needed a face. I needed humanity. I needed to know it was already done. And that is so sad, because He has died, He has suffered, He has taken it on, all of it, all of my shit. It is done, all of it is done. I still don't believe it. I still want to punish, I still want to kill. I still want to deny my ass-ness.
I'm attending a new church, I have been for several months now, and there is a lot of hope there for me. I was skeptical at first, and now am sold that this will be the place for the next while in seattle. It is called Bethany Community Church.
The pastor is probably the highlight for me among many others. He speaks honestly, not condescending/patronizing. He seems to get the complexity of issues and is always thinking about culture. He also has a great sense of humor and speaks in stories, he is a great story teller. There is a sense I get when he speaks that he is not bullshitting me, that whatever he is talking about he has at least struggled with in part. I'd say he's got one foot in nerd and another in cool so you can't fully peg him or label him.
I have started accruing my client hours for licensure, and have been lucky enough to find a supervisor that charges a reasonable price and also knows what he is talking about.
A particularly poignant experience/thought I brought into my session with him a couple weeks ago. I thought it really interesting that the most disorganized, screwed up, sitting in unpleasant feelings kind of day on the adolescent unit for me was also one of the days I felt most connected, most able to enjoy the adolescents.
After some thoughts on narcissism's play in all of this, my supervisor brought up the original story of Narcissus. The important point he spoke was that it was not simply that Narcissus fell in love with how beautiful he was, but that he fell in love with himself.
Put differently, the main function of narcissism is not just about looking good and perfect, it is also about never acknowledging any type of same-ness with others. Falling in love with yourself keeps you from ever having to genuinely move towards someone else. If you are all good, if you are perfect, why ever get contaminated with another's gross, disorganized mess?
Thus the narcissist lives in blissful denial of any of their own shit, projecting this mess onto others who are then called disgusting.
A bit of my narcissistic bliss had been dismantled the following day in counseling. I came to work more than a bit disorganized, humbled, humbled well by my own apparent mess. I could approach these adolescents, I could understand a bit more what their struggle was, because I wasn't in denial of my own. I even held a sense of honor for them. They are at the pinnacle of disorganization, hospitalized for their present mess. They are on the edge of survival, such a tangible display of life and death.
So easy to shift from one perspective to the other. A patient can look like a deteriorated, blabbering nuisance or a fighting, courageous survivor; context paints each view. Context is being at least remotely cued into your own story and theirs. One with no story, one with no idea of who they really were, what life has really been, how they really bring themselves today; they will inevitably see a blabbering nuisance who needs to get his shit together.
And it cycles...someone who tells another to get their shit together has never had the chance to really let their shit be seen by someone else. One who has never been able to express need will inevitably despise the need of another.
"This is very important stuff. This is grounds where very good work will take place." The discussion had left me soft, soft enough for me to feel like a sponge, slowly and deliberately soaking in those words. Life in slow motion. Hard to describe those moments other than being spiritual. Time slows down. Senses feel alive. Things have weight, but the opposite of the weight of a burden. Weight as fullness, depth. I see people and the slightest facial expression feels honest. Their motivations feel honest.
These moments I step out of my critical eye, judgment no longer holding the reigns. They still don't last long, but that is ok, don't want to judge my own judgment...I know how vicious that cycle is.
Despite a tumultuous attempt to round up the troops, it looks like the birth of a fall soccer team has just begun. Getting at least 15 people to commit and pay lots of money to play soccer is a feat only those who live for this stuff should undertake (thank you craigslist).
After watching the highlights of the US-Mexico World Cup qualifying match today, I am keenly reminded that I am one of those people. Watching those goals, every one has an epic feel to them. Every one takes my breath away. Taking another look in slow motion obviously captures it the best, revealing every attempt by each team to either get that damn ball somehow in the back of the net or once again get that last touch that is just enough to push the ball wide or over the top.
And when that ball does get in there, when that net moves, the degree of elation that I know so well from my own days playing is like witnessing the impossible just becoming possible. I think that is part of the celebration, the fans and the players release that tension, that feeling of “holy shit, it actually went in!!! oh my God, that’s amazing!!!”
While we will obviously not have the intensity of a World Cup qualifying game, I can’t wait to carry some of that intensity that soccer has always held for me into the season. Yo Mama’s Cleats has begun.
I welcome images. Let’s spend the day together. Let’s visit these spaces. Where visions precede words.
I dream of my mind as a canvas, a canvas that illuminates the colors, a canvas that does not erase, does not filter, does not correct. This canvas an endless space of images, thoughts, feelings that are watered, that are listened to. They sprout, their roots grow wildly, every direction.
The canvas is not just pretty. There are dark images, dark things. They are awful, disgusting. They hate, they want to kill. They move sharply, they have weight, density that crushes.
I dream of full strokes. Whether of beauty or horror; they are full. They are true.
How sad is one who has no words for what festers in the soul. How sad is one who has no medium, no canvas to paint. We are creatures who must paint.
We must paint before we know what it is we will create.
How can I have eyes to see another’s canvas if mine is so tightly constrained, with only pretty pictures with half of a life to them?
Slow down the space. Where visions precede words. It is here. Visions are painted. Without the voices of fear. Visions before words. Are the purest form of life.
Wanted to share my last piece of work from my last class at Mars Hill, called Selected Readings, a class where the professor is given freedom to teach in areas of their own special interest. The last day entailed each of us giving a 10 minute creative presentation on our experience of it.
One of the main ideas of the class was paying attention to that initial feeling that comes up in you when you sit with someone. Knowing how quickly that initial feeling comes and goes before thoughts muddy the waters, I often had the image of a flash of lightning and the thunder that follows. I juxtaposed that image with my own questionings and fears of who I am becoming, particularly the fear of such a strong pull to become cynical as my own ignorance melts away.
The writing ends with hope in the reminder to never forget how to feel, especially cry.
(I also played a song at the end, Fix You by Coldplay, a song that always thrusts me into feeling, and has such deep words of wisdom in the phrase, "tears stream down your face, when you lose something you cannot replace.")
“The cynic and the optimist are the same thing,” he told me, confidently defending the former, speaking against the less popular vote these days. And while I despise conforming to shallow popularity, I wonder if I am destined for that fate, as if a black hole is and will forever be sucking me and everything else into its bitter core. That black hole, making cynics out of anyone and everything that even hints at releasing their tight grip on ignorance. I envision my diploma, held pristine on the wall behind me for all my clients to see: Master of Arts in Cynical Psychology. I wonder if my progression through Mars Hill can be best described by the fact that I now swear out loud instead of under my breath. Have I simply moved from one pole to another, the optimist to the cynic?
I remember the thunderstorms of the Midwest. I am tucked deep beneath my covers, buried within my dreams. Until the flash of light. My inner world lit up. A few moments of silence, followed by thunder.
I always wanted to see the flash. I always wished I could freeze time when my fantasy world would suddenly brighten. My tired eyes could never stay awake. Instead I would get the aftermath, the translation of light into sound, the second best, the thunder.
The thunder spoke of terror. It said, “Get the fuck away or you will surely die.”
The thunder only spoke half the truth.
The flash is terrible, this is true. The flash is also one of the most beautiful things one could ever see.
Both the cynic and the optimist are scared shitless. Long ago they stopped believing the beauty of the flash, and now hear nothing but thundering terror.
In their fear, they try to fix, mend, make sense of such terrible beauty. They are the best fixers in the world, and the worst healers. Because they have forgotten how to feel. They opt for a meek translation into their endless thoughts that try to fix what can never be replaced. The cynic and the optimist have surely forgotten how to cry.
I've never been one for casual conversation, especially with those I don't know, the people I would never meet if it were not for my groceries, the restaurant, the bus ride. Most of my life I have moved through the check out line of the grocery store treating the bag lady or man like the credit card reader; a simple means to an end, the necessary automated requirement for my being able to bring my groceries home.
There has been a change in me as of late, however slight it may be, to really enjoy these exchanges. Not every one, as most of them are still quite lame, more than uneventful, and that's fine. But I have grown increasingly grateful for the moments when these simple exchanges and these random people have had the capacity to make my day.
Checking out of my usual safeway line at the usual safeway by my house, a dark-skinned male, probably in his late 30s, most likely of an African decent, was bagging my groceries. I didn't really notice him at first, thinking about other things, my usual mindless stance.
However, I am happy to say I was able to see and receive a subtle invitation, however small, mundane, foolish one may assume such an exchange to be. Once finished with my two plastic bags, he brought the two holes in each bag together to form a single hole for me to grab, lifted the bags up, and offered a smile of delight towards me. I remember his face. Lit up. This was not a small offer.
I can think of a past response of mine; maybe a feigned smile, a look that says, “ok ok just give me the bags before you make us both look stupid.” A perfectly effective way to shut down any mutual exchange of joy. And, of course, staying away from any possibility to be shamed for delighting in plastic bags.
However, I'd like to say this exchange had a very different ring, as I was aware enough to notice, aware enough to receive his blessing. And I know this is true because he made my day. I remember driving away in my car, a gratitude that lasted, a gratitude that grew, lingering around, gathering strength and mass instead of a quick vanishing into thin air. It was ok to allow this exchange to make my day. Even more than that; it was great. I felt great.
My spirit was lifted, a spirit that was in a sense redefining, however small, in that very moment what I thought of people. A man I had never met, from a culture deeply foreign to me, in a grocery store, making my day. I didn't have to be in church with a mass of white people and a moving sermon. I could be blessed by this random, mundane experience at Safeway on a weekday afternoon.
My gratitude lingers even now. A man who can joy in the simplest of things is a strong man. That is not a small deal. Joy is never a small deal. Especially with plastic bags.