Raw Nudity on the Continuum
Naked. That is what writing feels like. Naked. The act of putting words on screen that come from my head makes me feel vulnerable. For me writing is akin to agreeing to stand up in front of the class bare, without barrier, open. This is something that I have avoided my whole life. My life's work has been to keep you out. Hold you off. Manipulate what you see of me. Protect. Guard. Shield.
But that is only part of the story. All the while, I have been hiding this longing and need to be seen. To have you notice me. To have you see me and experience me. To matter. I have spent my life walking the line between hiding and being seen, manipulating and controlling all that I can so I can feel safe and allow you to see me. The take away - it is a lonely life when lived that way.
What I have learned is that you cannot control, manipulate and guard while being open. They are incongruent. Doesn't work. Not possible. Oh, I did a good job of thinking that it could because magical thinking is my forte, my super power. But as I write today, I can see that was bullshit.
My life's work has been a facade - an acting job that became my real life. Pretending to be whatever it was that I thought you wanted me to be. I was plastic, malleable and fake. Chameleonesque doesn't even begin to cover the rapidity with which I changed.
Let's start with the most basic and fundamental lie I have told (a little foreshadowing, there have been many). I have pretended and advertised myself as an extrovert. Someone who loves people and gets her energy from being around others.
Let's consult good old Merriam Webster for a better definition: "a gregarious and unreserved person."
Well I have done my best to be that. I have a big personality that tries to make herself smaller to fit in. I like to shape shift into whatever the social scene demands. But I have never, ever been an unreserved person. Never. I have never welcomed you in without reservation. My whole life has been one giant reservation. I have been reserved, aloof and always just one step back from the circle.
MW goes on to define extroversion as "the act, state or habit of being predominantly concerned with and obtaining gratification from what is outside the self."
Now wait a minute! Um, that is me...totally! I have been looking outside myself FOREVER! Booze, men, food, shopping, relationships, sex, parties, social and work commitments...you name it I have tried it. And all of it worked... for a little while.
Ok, so what does MW say about introverts? Introverts are people who "are reserved or shy; who enjoy spending time alone."
Um not me at all (until recently). Since I was a little girl, I have always picked spending time with others over spending time with myself. This was in large part because I didn't like myself. Who wants to spend a great deal of time with someone they don't like? I am perverse but not that perverse. I can remember being in 5th grade and having an entire Saturday stretching out in front of me and panicking. An entire day, alone was enough to send me to the phone desperately trying to find someone to get lost in. I would get on the rotary dial phone (those of you old enough to remember those will appreciate just how long it took to dial a phone number, let alone 20). I was committed to the cause and I would call everyone I knew (not everyone I liked or liked me) until I found someone that would hang out with me and relieve me from myself. Most of the time, I was successful because I was persistent and dogged in my pursuit away from me. I was motivated as others were avenues for me to exit myself. I was relentless. Thus the habit of exiting me became a habit. One that I would not examine for decades. People were a means to an end for me. I don't think that I entered one relationship until recently that wasn't motivated by a desire to escape my right here, right now.
But what about those introverts? I held them in contempt. I thought they were lame and superior. All the while I feared them because they held their center and were most comfortable being alone. Somewhere I feared to tread. Introversion defined: "the state of or tendency toward being wholly or predominantly concerned with and interested in one's own mental life."
Besides, now thinking that the people of Merriam Webster are perverse, I am left with WTF!? That is what I have been grappling with my entire life...my own mental life! That is what I have been running from the whole time...my interior, inside, the place where I am alone with me and operate with knowledge of who I really am. It came as a total shock that I had even a passing resemblance to them. I had tried to so hard to define myself otherwise. The thought came to me: What if I have been an introvert pretending to be an extrovert all this time? It felt like an assault. Just the initial thought felt as though someone punched me. Someone sucker punched me and I was left grasping for air.
After the initial shock wore off, I began to untangle myself. So which am I? They both apply depending on the distinct point in time I review myself. What I came to after some review is that I am both. We all are. When I let all the bullshit posturing fall away, I am an introvert. I enjoy being alone. I like quiet. I like peace. I like thinking my own thoughts. I regain the ability to participate in the world by spending down time. However, I somehow got the message that this is not a good thing for me, that society and its members wanted something different from me, demanded extroversion from me and I had no choice but to accommodate. I was so damn successful that I almost lost me. The price I paid was quite high, maybe you can relate. Maybe you have paid a high price too trying to be something you are not.
The freedom I have gained from allowing myself to claim my place on the introversion side has been weird but good. It is like suddenly being righted from an upside down position. It takes a minute to feel grounded and strong.
Introversion and extroversion are not just a pair of opposites but, for me, exist on opposite ends of a continuum. Having been a practicing Buddhist since the 10th grade (we will use "practicing" lightly here and a big shout out to Mike Allard for leading me to my spiritual path...more on him later). This continuum of extroversion/introversion are like the eight worldly winds in Buddhism:
In Buddhism the eight worldly Dharmas represent pairs of opposites, which keep us imprisoned within a very limited world view. They are compelling forces of the heart-mind which keep us continuously preoccupied by trying to achieve one end of the spectrum while desperately trying to avoid the other. These eight worldly concerns are generally driven by unconscious beliefs, basic instincts and social norms about what might fulfill us or by the fear of being affected by its opposite. These eight are: Pleasure/pain, praise/blame, fame/disgrace and gain/loss.
Yep, sounds about right. Like most other humans walking around, I seek pleasure and avoid pain, praise over blame, fame (or my version, success) over disgrace and gain over loss and now, extroversion over introversion.
But here is the ass kicker: I can't ever stay at one end of the spectrum. No one can. It isn't how life works. And my life is exhausting and relatively meaningless if I fight to stay on one end of the spectrum and avoid with all my might the other. What to do? Aim toward the middle and notice when I begin to orient toward my human default of seeking one and avoiding the other. It is this process where I find my heart and soul. I am some wonderful combination of all of this and on any given moment, I exist at a distinct point on the continuum and that make me, me. And what makes you, you. Life goes so much better when I stop resisting and grasping...it really does.
Seems so simple now. Just own the point you are on. Speak from that place. Own it. It is yours after all. Upon reflection, I can see that I was just not able to do that... I needed to obfuscate, confuse and hide from my place on these continuums. My greatest fear was that you would see my location and nail me to it. I would then fail you because it was in my nature to move within a range not be fixed in place. My movement would disappoint you and let you down. That was too much to bear so it felt safer and better to lie to you about where I am and who I am. Then if and when you might reject me, it wasn't really me. What I completely missed was that in the lying, I lost me and in that loss, I found that connecting to you can only come once I have connected to me.
So that is what this blog is going to be about...sharing with you all my attempts to connect with you and me that have failed, succeeded and all the things I have learned by both. It is my attempt to show you what courage to own your spot looks like. I am not sure that I actually have the courage, but I am going to do it anyway. What I have come to learn is that it is the willingness to share the journey (the ups and the downs) honestly that makes me a whole human being. Fear is always going to tell me to hide and claw desperately to one end of the spectrum and avoid at all costs (even the cost of truly loving me) the other end of that spectrum. I feel compelled to share my journey to me with you so that you might find yourself or at least come to know you better. Owning my naked reality without filtering, censoring and manipulating so that I may move closer to me so that I can have more compassion for you. It is about starting something that I am 100% sure I am going to fail at. Regardless, I feel compelled to try. So here we go...