Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Lemon of Internal Loneliness - Lemonade of Community, Earth, CrossFit

Alone in my own body. 

This is a phrase that I used to use to describe what it felt like inside of me, for most of my life. I don’t know how it will sound out loud, in the spaces where other human beings read their own experiences into the words. For me, this sensation has driven most of my need to connect, to be seen, to be heard. It’s a searing thing sometimes, with a panicky edginess that will not let me rest, sit still. Other times it will only be a dull ache that I hope no one notices while I go about my postures of purpose--thought projects, intellectual achievements, devotion to the divine as I had been shaped to know it/Him/the One. 

The source of most of my ‘not-enough-ness,’ this sense of being alone in my body, has also resulted in the depth and breadth of connections with friends I get to enjoy today. Without it, I would not have striven so hard for distinction amidst my intellectual pursuits, to be emotionally present for the mentors in my life who were drawn to my energies. I would not have persisted into new communities, then been driven further for women to gather in circle, for human beings to learn new ways to be more fully human with one another. In that sense, I have a blessedly overwhelming amount of lemonade for this lemon of an internal loneliness.

I muse here because I’m beginning to wonder if there are others in our civic spheres who feel bereft and alone in their own bodies. Could this emptiness unknown be underneath much of the inhuman-acting-out I see writ large--both extremist Republicans and Democrats? Does an utter refusal of awareness drive our divisions?

Most of the strategies the Westernized over-culture posits for redress of this existential condition have to do with sex of some kind. It could be as minimal as being a sexually desirable woman (for me, in my body), or an overtly macho-man in control and domination (the last gasp of the Patriarch? I wonder…). Or it could be as extensively beyond my ken as having multiple partners in sexual explorations, even co-habitation. (Could there be anything more exhausting or complicated, I wonder in myself? No shame no blame here, just observing my own visceral responses...). So much of our ideological politics has an either/or fulcrum around some body-characteristic...often with categories determined by the linear, categorizing habits of mind that are not holistic, integrative, synthesizing. Regardless, human beings are hincky about bodies, both as sites of ultimate self-expression and focal points of organized shame and moral condemnation(s). As a young woman growing up in small town Ohio, I chose to insure I was alone in my own body. Not only was it safer, but it seemed less complicated. 

Fast forward to today, with decades under my belt now of reclaiming the human body as source and guide in sacred knowing. It was not a conscious choice to focus my scholarship in this way, nor did I ever imagine I would be doing what I’m doing now in my vocational pursuits of seminary teaching and circle-way leadership. I was gifted with a transformative encounter with Something or Someone on November 11, 1993, singing Mendelssohn’s Elijah oratorio in a huge choral concert. I was blessed with a mentor and companion who could steward my fledgling (and willfully stubborn) scholarship. The role of music in spiritual transformation, in the arrival of insights along the sacred journey--that became my quest. The gift was realizing the wholly embodied nature of musical experience, the role of the body in receiving insights and staying with Something or Someone long enough to be changed on the inside. Reclaiming the body, I came to realize, undergirded everything driving me toward the sacred...

...which ultimately had to become reclaiming my own body. Note the abstraction in “reclaiming the body”? Divided. Separate from. Dissociated. Hmmm….  An essential shift in this sacred journey became the journey of reclaiming my own body, as fragile, fearful, and shame-ridden as I felt my own form to be. You cannot grow up in a feminine-demonizing, bastardizing-Christianized culture and not get marked by the embodied shaming/guilting of Eve. How does Dar Williams sing it? The story she was not meant to survive? 

Having deflected and distanced myself for decades from any association with Eve’s shaming--it wouldn’t touch me if I took on the masculinized shield, I decided early on--I now see the terrible wounding of both men and women by this energy of demonization, this energy of dissociation or separation. It doesn’t matter whether you agree with it and disempower women consciously or unconsciously, or whether you decry it, deny it, refuse it voice. This energy of aversion, of separation, is internalized within each of us in some fashion. It shows up when men disavow their feelings, so to not get the shit kicked out of them for being weak or ‘too feminine,’ or to prevent losing face in a political debate or divide. It shows up when women achieve as much as men, taking on the masculine in the worlds where it will be the only thing heard or seen. All the while, our world careens out of balance, disconnected from the earth, from the feminine, from the body.

The strange thing that draws these reflections forth with a sense of contrast, with possibility, is that I am no longer alone in my own body today. I find this befuddling in many ways, because it is independent of my sex life. I am blessed with a loving life partner, willing to grow along with me amidst his own quite distinct sacred journeying. We’ve had great sex, bad sex, and everything in between. This being no longer alone in my body is independent of that journey with him, though it now gifts us both, of course.

The pieces that seem related have emerged from disparate but integrating directions. One clearly breathes new life here as our circle-way community was birthed and is evolving now in her own time, blessed by the shared labor with a dear spiritual friend. Another comes in deepening explorations in co-creation with nature, learning the voices and energies of what another friend calls the Plant Nation, the Mineral Kingdom, and more.

A Sacred Mountain Quest in 2019 opened up awareness to invitations and energies I’d never noticed or truly felt before. Another piece comes in a relatively new circle-way community in my life, CrossFit, a community-organizing approach to fitness and health. 

This not being alone in my body anymore suggests a way of being in the world rooted in nature, connected to the Earth in known and unknown ways. It is held by being in right relationship with a larger community that truly hears me, sees me, at regular intervals. Not only hears and sees me, but allows me to be as fragile and potentially shadowy as I may be at times, experiencing and even causing discomfort within which all of us (who are willing) will grow, be transformed. This not being alone in my body breathes again and again as I get to play and move and challenge myself with physical exertion alongside others on the same fitness commitment, discipline.

The emptiness unknown became apparent, began to ease, when a community formed with deep-listening, consciousness-raising practices in which those who show up can be seen and heard, in all light and shadow...when an inarticulate-intuitive connection to the Earth took root in my awakenings...when a community of fitness offered a way to move in concert while prioritizing individual health and fitness.

Body. Awakening Community. Earth. Moving Community. Body. Not resolving our political conflicts. Not ignoring our political divides and the very real pains in any and everyone I know. Body. Willing to awaken in community. Rootedness in the Earth. Becoming fit and healthy so to hear what is all around us.

Enough for today. More than enough. Downright blessing and gratitude. Lemonade (without sugar for me), from this lemon of body loneliness. Perhaps lemon-infused water will be enough, refreshment for a warm day.

Monday, July 12, 2021

Emptiness Unknown

There used to be a deep-belly emptiness in me, though for most of my life, I did not even know I felt empty. This may be because I insured I didn’t feel...or I didn’t feel what I wasn’t supposed to feel...or at least I didn’t feel too much, whatever that meant in my contexts. In the last 5-7 years, however, a fullness I never knew was possible found me, or was released within me, or…something...? Midlife awakening? Surely. Midlife crisis? For a time, yes. But I had been empty without knowing I was empty, and I’m a woman who is assumed to know a lot

So now I’m curious about this emptiness unknown. One, how could I have not known I was empty? What were the assumptions and practices that filled my life but did not fill me? The second reason is probably part of the first, in some way. Now that I can feel this overwhelming fullness, this grounded peaceableness that opens doors for me and holds spaces for me? I want everyone who will listen to know about it. To know about this groundedness, this fullness, this sacred abundance that is simply everywhere, though hidden in plain sight in a consumerist, market-economy environment. It's like having a felt-sense of the best thing EVER but being basically mute, speechless.

I don’t berate myself for not knowing, at least not as much anymore. I’m learning to trust there is a divine order to things, and life expands when I surrender into what is, just as it is, even as I get to learn and offer my part as I may. I also do NOT want to sound preachy or judgmental or presumptuous, because my own journeying need not parallel anyone else’s. I know that. Yet this yearning to share presses into me more and more... How to proceed? A bit of story context, perhaps.

One rendition of this story is rooted in my own family lineages. I was born into a Pennsylvania-Deutsch Brethren/Scottish-British Baptist weave of family, with well-tended material needs and a highly relational extended family enamored with professional success and intellectual achievement. This means I have striven hard for and earned/been granted an establishment life--seminary professor married to an attorney-become-pastor in a mainline denominational church. We are double-income-no-kids dog-lovers with ease of a quiet life we love. The underbelly of this life however is an inordinate devaluing of emotional experience(s), a confinement of the heart within the categories available to the mind. Without shame or blame, the wisdom of the body and the inarticulate movements of the Heart simply do not factor into how my family connects with itself. Instead, it’s information, social-capital connections, books, movies, and achievements. And some of the most internally lonely people I know. There is a deep emptiness about which we never speak. To even allude to it will bring the conceptual violence of intellectual debate and refusals into speech. The shame and fears of unworthiness (or whatever the bindings may be) are simply too great, too intentionally unconscious. Unbearable. So I no longer speak of the emptiness deeply within my family to my family.

Another rendition can come in terms of the rise of the feminine so apparent today, which expressed itself within my own life in the last 5-7 years. ‘Feminine’ was a bad word in my house, for various mostly unconscious reasons. I remember the sneer on my dad’s face when I was in high school, as he distanced himself from something feminine and my mother looked away. The implicit curriculum in my family line was clear: feminine is weak, disdained, avoided. Voice in my family was granted through connection to the father, the brothers, and I maximized that pathway to agency for at least four decades. Blessedly so, I might add--a great gift to me and to my life today. But something began to break open in me, at first gently and then more and more persistently: I was feminine. I am a woman in body and soul. There are different ways to be who I am than I first knew. It took incredible strength to claim this part of me, the body wisdom so deep in me, so disdained in my family line. The pain of coming to voice in this way, audibly and visibly in my family, was extensive. No one in my immediate family or family of origin was interested in my newfound feminine. Particularly as I was enraged and reactive about its silencing, abuse, neglect. For years. I don’t actually blame them. It was no picnic.

Another strand of this storyline could be explored in the cultural heritages within which I live and am perceived in my life and work: whiteness. My curiosity comes in this term last, latest, because admittedly it is the newest framework within which I’m wondering things aloud. I’m not jumping onto the Critical Race Theory trains, nor am I interested in debating systemic racism (or not). I’m not interested in debates, so why would I be interested in those?

But I am interested in this emptiness unknown, and its emergence in me, a white body. So many strands of European cultures divide the mind from the heart, the spirit from the flesh. A dualism entrenched in Holy Scripture, that gives an either/or habit of mind and a longstanding relationship with shame, guilt, judgment (of the other, or fear of judgment in the self). Any deep feeling that would arise in me? Sublimation into the cognitive. Reticence to feel too much, be too much, say too much. A numbness or a deadness that would be perceived an appropriate response for any societal disruption that makes 'those that be' uncomfortable. Do that every day for nearly fifty years, and you’d have an incapacity for feeling, and an inability to connect with basic human instincts of seeing another as yourself, loving another as oneself. No matter heritage, skin, culture, history...to see another person always with the spark of the divine, however muted or dimmed it may seem to me. To realize when I'm not seeing an other in this compassionate light...even with my best intentions. When I'm encapsulated in a largely white environment, I know to not cross the streams, impose too much emotion into the space. Except I'm starting to play with that line, gently...in spaces that feel open to a little more emotional expression, in a setting that's already rife with emotion.

I’m sure there will be other storylines within which this emptiness unknown could be explored, but for now…  As a result of this proclivity in me for deep feeling, I feel deeply and often, such beautifully awesome and sadly lamentable Life. Because of my tenacity to stay present in my body amidst disregard, refusals, and the conceptual violence of my family, I know a fullness, a groundedness, a peaceableness that I never knew was possible. It does not depend upon my immediate family, nor upon my family of origin. It does not require anything from my extended family, nor does it need affirmation from beyond. It has a life of its own, always available to me, when I do not separate from it or isolate myself from it...

There used to be a deep-belly emptiness in me. For most of my life, I did not know I felt empty. And now I want everyone who will listen to know this groundedness, this fullness, this sacred abundance is available to one and all. But how do we begin? How do we let this fullness speak for itself, again and again, inviting us ever inward, outward, IN? I do not know, really.

Consider this Post One of a series then. I invite the fullness to find me in these next days or weeks, and then offer the words it may, in its own time...


Retracing the Steps of Freedom...Getting the Poisoned Arrow Out

This past week danced with the theme of reconsidering citizenship . A friend and colleague, Dr. C. Anthony Hunt , and I co-led an immersion-...