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Posts Tagged ‘transformation’

There are so many words I have not said.

There is a graveyard of words I store somewhere in the space that encompasses me, buried several corpses deep. Words I couldn’t say. Words I should have said but didn’t. Words that risk and words that respect and words that choke in a throat habituated to silence.

Photo Credit: macieklew via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: macieklew via Compfight cc

I think these words I do not say. Sometimes I think them over and over again. I think about their vulnerability. I think about what they’re in response to. I think, “Is this person insensitive? Am I too sensitive? We’re acting like everything is fine and normal. Are this other person’s words and actions actually fine and normal? Would most people not have the reaction I’m having?”

It’s so easy to forget that at a certain point, those questions lose their significance. This is not about labels. This is not about unwinding the precise reasons, the why’s and the chain of events and the correct place to lay the blame.

Blame doesn’t repair anything.

No, this is about hurt. It is about swallowing it down and hoping I can hide it in a dark enough place it will almost be as if it never existed. It is about refusing to shatter the peaceful object that can be the two of us. It’s the fear of leaving the painful limbo for something worse. Maybe even someplace where you and I no longer exist as you and I.

It keeps you a few football fields at least from where I stand. Maybe with you way over there I’ll feel better. Maybe if I don’t tell you about the hurt, I can prevent it from growing if you ignore what I have to say.

It doesn’t work.

And so I think about transformation. What is the alchemy of turning the hurt into something like self-love? Let me test and tinker, let me write down a precise script of process and ingredients, let me join the ranks of the masters who have already perfected this art.

The question becomes not “Why am I like this?” or “How can I not be like this?” but rather “I am like this, so knowing that is true, how can I best be happy and cared for?”

The response becomes not “Swallow it down, and pretend it never happened” but rather “Let’s talk about this hurt and see how you and I can communicate.”

And if that communication is unfortunate and the hurt is not acknowledged? Especially if this is a pattern of interaction or a newer connection? The response becomes not “What’s wrong with me?” but rather “Perhaps I don’t want to spend much time with this person in future.”

Which, of course, can sometimes hurt like hell, but it’s the pain of the Band-Aid being ripped off. The wound was already there.

Meanwhile, I don’t want you to know who I am. My words reveal me. They let you know I am not a statue of joy and granite but a human of flesh and bone, tears and sweat, idiosyncrasies and flaws.

The whisper inside becomes not “I will never be perfect” but rather “I am enough.”

I believe it is better for the words to be spoken. It is only then we can learn each other.

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This weekend I went to a party that was basically a room full of Buddhists…and me.

Does that sound like the set-up for a joke?

Anyway, I really enjoyed hanging out with these people because they were all kind and authentic and heartfelt, and also there was a lot less small talk than usual at a party where I don’t know anyone, and as we’ve already kind of touched upon, small talk tends to bore the crap out of me, especially in large doses. (And as an aside, I haven’t gotten to ask anyone yet about the coolest thing they’ve ever done, but I am SO looking forward to it.)

Photo Credit: ~C4Chaos via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: ~C4Chaos via Compfight cc

I also had to speak in front of the group, in impromptu fashion, and I mentioned in passing that I had found my own way to work towards wholeheartedness. Afterwards, more than one person was very interested in hearing about my “practice,” and I found myself struggling to put it into words. I didn’t have a convenient sticker like “Buddhism” to slap onto myself and how I move through life.

And yet, it didn’t seem like an odd question, because I do have a practice. Those of you who have been reading this blog for a long time probably know a lot about it because I tend to write a lot about it, but it doesn’t have a specific label. It is a combination of many different parts, some of which would be very familiar to a Buddhist: mindfulness, introspection, and compassion, as well as a focus on priorities and strategies and investigations into how the world works and how I work.

But what I found myself saying more than once was this: I am an artist. That is my practice.

I am an artist. That is my community.

Music has always been my foundation and solace. It reminds me how joy feels. And writing, well, writing changes me. There was that moment when I realized I couldn’t separate myself from my writing. I was in my writing, whether it was in these essays or in my fiction, and therefore I wanted to strive to be the person I wished to see in my work.

And art is a practice. It’s all about practice, whether you’re repeating vocal exercises or the difficult end passage of that aria, or whether you’re memorizing music, or whether you’re writing two essays a week and a thousand words a day. Art is trying new things and challenging yourself, pushing yourself to your limits and then coming back tomorrow and finding your new limit and pushing yourself again. Art is in the way you see the world, and it becomes entangled in the way you interact with the world.

For me, there came the point where I saw my entire life as one long continuous work of art. It’s a fun way to live.

In thinking about all this, I also realized how important community is to any practice. Because yes, writing changed and continues to change me, but I don’t know that I would have had the courage to let it without the writing community by my side, helping me and educating me and supporting me and cheering me on. It is hard enough to transform without doing it in isolation. It is easier to challenge yourself when you are surrounded by people who understand why you’re doing what you’re doing.

Aside from a renewed sense of gratitude for my own community, I left the Buddhist party with the following awareness: that there are so many ways to travel in the same direction and so many ways to reach the same, or a similar, destination. There are so many ways to have and cultivate a practice. There are so many ways to embrace change. There are so many ways to strive and grow and learn.

There is no one right way.

The Buddhists and I, we’re really not all that different. In that room, we each of us had a practice, parts of which were different and parts of which were the same.

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I really like the metaphor of the phoenix for transformation.

I remember learning about metamorphosis in grade school, and being excited I could remember how to spell it. (I had a happy gift for spelling.) The caterpillar stuffs its little self as full as can be, and then it spins a warm, comfy cocoon. I imagined it sleeping inside, engaged in curious caterpillar dreams, until one day it would wake up and break free, transformed. It sounded so easy.

That’s why I like the phoenix. The phoenix doesn’t have it easy at all. When it’s time for the phoenix to change, it literally bursts into flames. Being burnt to ash has to be excruciating. And there might very well be some uncertainty involved as well, because what if it doesn’t work this time? What if the phoenix does not become reborn? And even if it does, what if it’s different in some critical and upsetting way? What if it is no longer its self? What if it’s lost something valuable in the process of being reborn?

Photo Credit: Ryan McCurdy via Compfight cc

So often, that’s the reality of transformation. We don’t always know exactly what the end result will be. When I sit down to revise a manuscript, I often have the troubling thought, “What if I end up making it worse instead of better?” When I set out to change myself, I can only guess at the ripples that are going to spread out from that change. And those ripples, once they start moving, are extremely difficult, if not impossible, to control. Who knows where they’ll travel or how fast they’ll spread?

What we can know is the process will hurt. It will be uncomfortable. Bursting into flames, even if it’s only metaphorical, is clearly not the easiest path available to us. Excising large portions of a manuscript that represent hours upon hours of effort can be nausea-inducing even while it’s liberating. Any large change is going to require an adjustment period when nothing feels quite as it should. When you rip off the band aid, you take some skin and hair along with it. When you fling yourself into the world newly altered, you flail and whack one or more of your limbs against obstructions that you hoped to avoid or didn’t even know were there.

But the idea of the phoenix also encompasses hope. The phoenix is reborn. It returns renewed and refreshed, brighter and fiercer. It is a thing of beauty and fascination. Through the pain of the fire, the old is burned away, leaving space for something new and wonderful.

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“The irony of commitment is that it’s deeply liberating – in work, in play, in love. The act frees you from the tyranny of your internal critic, from the fear that likes to dress itself up and parade around as rational hesitation. To commit is to remove your head as the barrier to your life.” – Anne Morriss

My friend posted this quotation on Facebook the other day, and I’ve been thinking ever since about the relationship between commitment, fear, and change.

Commitment is, in a way, about leaning into the fear. Because once we become wholly committed to something, then we have something to lose in a way we didn’t before, and that can be really freaking scary. And commitment is about change, because even if it doesn’t cause any outward differences, it transforms what’s going on inside our minds and hearts. It alters our personal stories.

To commit fully is to feel naked and exposed. It is to drop any facade of insouciance or nonchalance. It is almost a confession, that this, this is something I’ve chosen to pour my heart, my energy, my time, and my passion into.

Commitment doesn’t come with any guarantees of success. If it did, it wouldn’t be nearly so interesting, so raw, so immersive in that which is vulnerable. But it does, as Anne Morriss says, remove our heads as barriers. It allows us to throw ourselves completely into our lives. It allows us to choose the kind of lives about which we can later sit down and write memoirs.

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When I think about my life, I realize that I couldn’t have followed through on the really hard things I’ve done without deep commitment. I couldn’t have gotten my college degree or had a senior recital. I couldn’t have moved to London. I couldn’t have started my own business. I couldn’t have become a writer. I couldn’t have engaged on a personal and emotional level with the people who are important to me. And I couldn’t have changed who I am and how I relate to the world.

All of those things involved risk and the chance of failure. All of them allowed the possibility of someone saying no, of things going wrong, of heartache and disappointment and mistakes, of me wimping out. All of them scared me.

When I arrived in London with my two gigantic suitcases, just out of college and with a freshly broken heart, a friend met me at the airport and helped me get to the place I was staying. And then he left, and I sat there, and I thought, “Oh my god, what have I done?” And then I cried. But the next morning I got out of bed and I left my flat and I explored London. Because I was committed to being there and having the richest experience I could, even though I was lonely and scared and didn’t know what I was doing.

There are so many times when I feel like I don’t know what I’m doing. Commitment helps me lean into the fear and discomfort of that feeling, and do it anyway. If we want to put ourselves out there in the world, if we want to try to do amazing things, I think that kind of commitment is necessary. The commitment gives us the permission we need to really go for it.

Commit and be free. I like that. It’s the kind of complex idea that requires a lot of thought to see the layers of truth it contains.

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I recently received an email from a friend of mine asking for travel advice for an upcoming trip to Europe. I am always thrilled to be asked about travel, because any excuse to talk about it is a good excuse in my book. So I wrote back promptly sharing what I knew, and when he thanked me, he also said, “You talk and blog about the wonders of travel, but for us newbies the actual process can be a bit intimidating.” And I knew I had today’s blog post.
One of my favorite things about travel (and also one of the things I most dread, paradoxically enough) is how uncomfortable it can be. It can shake us loose from our daily routines, from our preconceptions, even from who we might think we are. It challenges us, it taxes us, and sometimes things go wrong. Sometimes things go very, very wrong.

But I realize that maybe that’s not what I tend to talk about. My excitement and passion for travel shines through so brilliantly that it tends to eclipse all else. I gloss over many of the hard bits, or I don’t mention them at all. Plus many events that were quite difficult at the time seem funny or interesting in retrospect. Even as they’re happening, I try to see them as all part of the adventure, and that attitude carries through even when I’m back home.

So yes, the process of travel is intimidating, and not just if you’re a travel newbie. It takes a certain amount of energy to get started, and at this time in my life when I’m getting more settled and am dealing with lingering physical limitations, I have that energy less often than I used to. And while I’m not overly intimidated by travel to Europe anymore (which wasn’t always the case), I’m still easily overwhelmed by contemplating trips to other parts of the world. (Exotic diseases are my bugaboo. If the ailments I read about in the medical part of the guidebook are too disgusting, I lose all enthusiasm for visiting. I’m also convinced that I will get malaria in many parts of the world because mosquitoes love me soooo much.)

I didn't have a digital camera when I was in Sweden, so a photo of Norway is going to have to do...

Still, it is through the discomfort that transformation can occur, which is why I love it in spite of itself. The first non-English-speaking country I visited by myself was Sweden. Very modern, almost everyone speaks at least some English there, the food isn’t too crazy. I’d arranged to stay in a dorm room in Stockholm, so I even had a place to head upon arrival. I went out and about my first day, and I was so overwhelmed by being alone in a foreign place that I went back to the dorm and hid. I’m not even kidding, I hid and watched TV and cooked food in the dorm kitchen and felt miserable. I thought I’d made a terrible mistake, and it took all my willpower to eventually leave the safety of my room and continue my travel adventure.

On top of the world... in Switzerland.

Fast forward two months and I was in Switzerland, also alone, but completely transformed. It wasn’t that I was so much more comfortable, but I knew I could rely on myself. I had more confidence, I had seen amazing places and met a huge array of different people, and I had survived. I had faced up to the strong surges of grief I still felt over my mom’s death, and I had finally found a measure of peace around it. I was a different person, and to this day I believe that those two months are among the most important experiences of my life.

So is travel amazing? Yes, but it’s not for the weak of heart. It can be dizzying and terrifying, tedious and stimulating, painful and healing, and no matter how carefully we plan, travel will turn out differently than we expect.

What is an amazing travel experience you’ve had? Or, if you haven’t traveled much, what destination are you eager to visit?

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