Becoming Buddhist

Attempting to Live a More Mindful Life


8 Comments

Extra! Extra! Woman Feeling Guilt, Shame, and Negativity Writes Herself a Love Letter

photo-4 copyFriday: one mom, me, talking to another mom, Kate, about a situation at my son’s school. I tell Kate that I want to say something about it but am concerned about backlash. I also admit to feeling like a coward, and thus, am thinking maybe I will complain anonymously.

“I hear that,” she says, gently, “but I think it’s not a great attitude for a parent to have. Because we all need to advocate for our kids, right?”

Me: awash in shame. Instantly. Kate is so much wiser than I am, and I am truly a coward. And a bad parent, likely because I am infertile and only have one child to practice on. 

Thursday: L has a playdate with one of the most ill-behaved children I have ever met. When I tell him we’re out of cream cheese at lunch time, he screams at me that he hates me. When it’s time to clean up, he tells me, “I’m not your slave!” When he bonks his head and I try to comfort him, he yells, “Stop touching me!” I know this kid well; he went to preschool with L, so I worked with him in the classroom every week, and we have relatives in common. So I feel pretty comfortable with him. So comfortable, in fact, that when he screams at me the last time, I say, calmly, “If you’re going to speak to me like that, T., I’m not going to invite you to my house again.”

Told the hubs, M, about it. He was a little shocked, said it sounded kind of harsh.

Me: awash in shame. Instantly. I’m such a terrible person, for speaking that way to someone else’s kid. And T’s dad is going to find out and tell all our friends that I’m a monster. 

Wednesday: I’m applying for this…thing. I need a letter of recommendation. I email a couple of friends who have academic jobs and ask a couple of questions about whom I should list as recommenders and whether I should include X or Y on my CV.

My friend Brooke writes back. “Don’t make assumptions about what they’re looking for,” she says. “This is a prestigious *thing* and they’re going to get a ton of great applicants, so just pull out all the stops.”

Me: awash in shame. Instantly. There’s no way I will be competitive with all those great applicants out there, since I am just an untalented 41-year-old wash-up whose career is in the toilet. 

Yup, that’s the week I’ve had. (I won’t even tell you about Monday and Tuesday.)

I go through these periods where I feel I just can’t do anything right. I’m a bad parent, a bad writer. I’m a bad teacher. I don’t keep my house clean enough. I have gray hair, I’m no longer pretty. I eat too much cheese. I yell at my kid. I can’t keep my room tidy enough. I’m not financially savvy, and generally, I suck.

If I’m honest, I spend a lot of my life in this pattern of thinking. Some weeks, when I’m meditating a lot, when I remember to be mindful, when things with L and M are smooth, when I’m exercising enough and writing enough—I can take these small, relatively insignificant moments and roll them off the back like so much water. I can remind myself that at 41, I’m still learning. That it’s okay to make mistakes. That Kate, M, and Brooke are not out to get me; they’re trying to be supportive, helpful, and kind. That really, geez, these are tiny things to get all het up about.

But other weeks, small wounds like these go straight to some place in me that believes it’s not okay to make mistakes, and more than that, that my tiny falters somehow indicate terrible things about my character. On these weeks, it feels like the whole world is persecuting me. I’m hypersensitive about everything. Negativity runs the show. Look at me wrong and I just might freak out.

I’ve thought a lot about this pattern. At 41 I am no longer in therapy, and honestly (no, believe me!) not so tethered to my anxieties and insecurities all the time. I’m actually a pretty functional and whole person, capable, kind, evolved. But I have this dark place in me that still holds a lot of sway. It comes, I think, from having grown up with parents who second-guess every move they make; in addition to brown eyes, good teeth, and olive skin, I got this tendency towards self-doubt, and this belief that mistakes mean weakness.

And I am heartily, heartily sick of it. In fact, one of the reasons I started a meditation practice was to try to let some of this negativity go. And it worked, for a while; or at least, meditation helped me remember not to make my life, and these small parts of it, such a big deal. But lately, for a thousand reasons, my meditation practice is spotty, at best. The mornings have become too tight, since we’re trying to get everyone up, dressed, fed, and out the door in a calm fashion (instead of what was happening before: bedlam, fights, tears). I sometimes manage to meditate before bed, but it just doesn’t feel as powerful, somehow. L’s own negativity and moods have been weighing heavily on our house—it’s amazing how powerful the discontent of a five-year-old can be—and that’s been hard to be mindful through. Also, it’s been raining and raining and raining, and while my joy and happiness that this is the case (remember our 4-year drought?) is palpable, it’s also meant less exercising for me and just more time indoors, with cabin fever (and that cranky five-year-old, did I mention him?).

So it’s been a tough week.

And so here, at the end, I will just note the writing prompt that appeared in my inbox this morning, from Kat McNally and her #Reverb project (a reflective writing prompt a day, in the month of December):

It all starts with kindness. Everything I have learnt, everyone I have interviewed, every word I have studied has guided me to this simple but profound conclusion: true happiness begins and ends with self-kindness.

No more guilt. No more shoulds. No more comparison.

And the very best way to give your weary soul some kindness at the end of this year? A love note.

Write a letter from you to you… filled with forgiveness, love, and a big bear hug.

Here’s mine:

Dear BB,

I forgive you for making mistakes. I forgive you for being oversensitive. I forgive you for not meditating. I forgive you for making things such a big deal. You’re tops.

Love,

BB

This post is, sort of, part of the Reverb 14 December daily writing challenge, a series of reflective writing prompts designed to help let go of 2014 and move into 2015 with intention.

 

Advertisements


6 Comments

Where Oh Where Do I Want to Live?

IMG_1422

A beautiful mountain vista, New Hampshire, August, 2014

I had an unsettling dream last night. I dreamed that M and I had both gotten jobs back East, him in New York and me in Western Massachusetts, where I went to graduate school. The dream involved lots of logistics–where would we live, could we find a spot in the middle where we could both commute to our jobs, and hadn’t I always wanted to live in New York City? And hadn’t I always wanted to return to Western Mass? And then I woke up, in Berkeley, in our new flat across the street from the old flat. Actually I woke up because my brother, who lives back East, sent a text to my other brother and my mom, who also live back East, and to me, three hours behind, and so at the ungodly hour of 6:15 I rose to silence my phone and then lay there thinking about this dream of moving back East and why it had unsettled me so.

I knew why; it’s because, for the last couple of months, I’ve been feeling decidedly like I don’t know where home is. Last spring, when we were getting kicked out of our house and in a nasty fight with our landlady, M and I pondered–and got close to–buying a house in Berkeley. Unfortunately/fortunately, it didn’t happen. There was disappointment and relief, both, and then we moved into the apartment across the street, and very much landed on our feet. But over the summer, L and M and I went to Maine for three weeks. My brother has a new baby, who I got to hold every day; I hung out with my sister in law as much as I could. I bonded with my niece and nephew, and I recall thinking that it had been the best visit in a long time. Easy, fun, fortifying. And then, we left, and when we got back to California I felt confused, out of sorts, and untethered. And if I’m honest with myself, I still do feel that way.

This feeling–it has been with me on and off since I was 21 and moved to Portland, Oregon, from Boston. I have spent the majority of my adult life on the West coast, far from my tight-knit family. I love them; I love spending time with them; and I also felt and feel a pull to be in the West. Because I make friends easily and well, wherever I go I’m surrounded by community, love, and “chosen family”–I am not lonely, all these miles from where I grew up. The West is in many ways perfect for me. It has everything I need. That doesn’t mean I don’t miss New England; of course I do. Missing it is natural, at times sad, at times conflicting, and at times, just, my lot in life.

What’s hard, what’s truly hard, is my guilt. I am prone to guilt. It’s an emotion I know intimately. And it’s an emotion my parents like to use as a weapon. To wit: for the last week of our visit home, and the five weeks after we got back, I did not have one conversation with my mother that did not involve her pressuring me to come for Christmas this year, even though it is very much M’s mom’s turn to have us. Besides the Christmas pressure, there were the others: If only M could get a job in Vermont, I think you guys would love Vermont and Did you know Pete and Mary are selling their house in Maine, it would be so perfect for you guys…

I think she thinks, if she needles away at us enough, we’ll just do what she wants and move back East.

At first, all I could focus on was that guilt and my anger at my mother for laying that trip on me. At one point, she made a joke about how she wasn’t feeling well (she had a cold at the time) and that we should really try to spend time with her while we could. I didn’t speak to her for a week. Does she think I don’t worry, all the time, about what will happen when she and my dad become unable to take care of themselves anymore and I live 3,000 miles away?

But underneath my anger and guilt, a larger reality looms: California is not home. It can never be home, unless M and I decide, consciously, forcefully, soon, to make it home. To just admit that we will live here permanently. I see around me people whose lives look identical to mine in many ways–their kids are in the public schools here, they work locally, they garden and take trips and pay taxes–but they do so with the knowledge that they’ll be here for twenty, thirty years, that they have no intention of leaving. They settle, they trust, they buy houses and fix them up. And us? We go on, year after year, not knowing where we will be. And it is starting to really wear me down. Not only because I can’t paint my bedroom the color I want or rip out the flower gardens in the back yard–those small things do have a hold on me–but because I honestly don’t know when we will be in a place, a house or a community, that is truly home. And home is important to me. I thought, for a while, Berkeley could be it. This is a great place to live. I could make a home here. But I can’t, because I feel like my family won’t let me, or, more fairly, that I won’t let myself.

I realize that a lot of this comes down to co-dependence. My friend An Honest Mom reminded me that my piece of this is not the same as my parents’ piece. “You can feel sorry that they’re sad you live far away,” she said, “and that can actually not be about you at all.” It was a good reminder. And at the same time, I found myself marveling at her clarity that she lives here in Berkeley (maybe she isn’t so clear, maybe no one is–but from the outside, it seems like they are). I feel so much envy for people who are sure. 

And so, the dream. Waking up, it occurred to me that moving back East would require a Herculean effort–finding jobs, finding a place to live, etc.–but that if we wanted to do it, we could. We could just give in to the guilt, decide to make that choice, and do it. Honestly, we would miss this place, but we would be happy there. We could even give ourselves a time frame, like, we’ll be here until second grade, then go. (In fact, L, who has been telling us that he “hates the drought” and is “worried about the drought” told me the other day that in two years, we should decide where we want to live and go there–odd.)

Or we could muddle on in our uncertainty, and see what happens.


Leave a comment

Why Are Blessings So Hard to Accept?

I’ve had such a wonderful few weeks. On May 17, my spring semester ended, and I turned in final grades a few days later. Lex’s school has been in session the whole time, which means, yes–my somewhat harried usual 15-20-hours-of-work-in-20-hours-of-childcare (and grading on the weekends) became long days with no grading to do and no kid to chase around until 12:30 or 3:00 p.m., sometimes 4:00. Sometimes, during these breaks (I get two long ones, and one short, per year), I can’t concentrate, and I fritter away the days worrying about the missing paychecks, but for whatever reason I fully embraced this break.

I:

  • Fulfilled my goal of sending out my memoir to at least 3 agents a week (my general goal was 5 submissions a week, of the memoir, of essays, whatever)
  • Finished up and sent out one essay
  • Drafted and polished another, and sent it out, too
  • Blogged
  • Figured out Twitter (insofar as one can do such a thing!)
  • Lazily graded the papers and exams I needed to for the other school where I teach very part-time
  • Got caught up with my preschool chair duties
  • Cleaned my house
  • Read some books
  • Cooked some good food
  • Meditated
  • Relaxed and concentrated on my IVF
  • And, today, went to yoga.

Formal yoga classes have left my life sphere in the last year or so. This started as a logistical issue; I couldn’t find a teacher I particularly liked, and all of the classes were either too long or at the wrong time. Then I decided that I’d rather save the money for a house (in these parts $16 per class is a good deal–oof–and a tiny house costs $650,000–double oof). So I began just doing a little yoga at home and the occasional 20-minute video here and there, which, actually, is pretty sustaining (try it!). So when I decided last minute today to hit a lunch-hour yoga class with a friend, it felt indulgent, exciting, and just a little bit like…a guilty pleasure.

Ah, guilt.

A little reminder that sits on the kitchen cupboard at a friend's house

A little reminder that sits on the kitchen cupboard at a friend’s house

At the class, the teacher talked about the concept of wounds, and how we heal from wounds by seeking out experiences that fulfill needs we missed as children. Some of this didn’t make sense to me; I of course have my wounds, but the ones the teacher was referencing were not ones I feel I need to address, exactly. Nonetheless it got me thinking about ways that I hurt–that we all hurt–and how those same hurts come up, again and again. And my experience of being in that class–feeling an inexplicable guilt because many of my friends were at work; my husband was at work; I was paying someone else to watch my kid while I was at yoga; etc etc etc–was compounded by the realization that one of my wounds is this inability to accept the blessings in my life without feeling guilty for them.

Put another way: why, when I have the chance to go to noon yoga, or morning meditation, or take a nap in the afternoon, why do I not think, wow, what a lucky, blessed life, that I can do this? and instead go to, you’re such a privileged little shit, you who only works part time and gets 12 weeks off a year. You suck.

This kind of guilt has pretty much plagued me my whole life. Call it white guilt, or privileged guilt, or just plain-old guilt, I always feel guilty for the good fortune I have had and conflicted when things are really going right for me, like I don’t deserve it.

Interestingly, this revelation dovetailed with something that happened yesterday. A writer friend told me she thinks I need more “mystery” on my writing blog, less an air of “Oh God I want to be published so badly” and more of an air of “I have so many irons in the fire, so much great is happening, look at me.” At first, this unsolicited advice really hurt. It made me feel I was doing something wrong. After, it made a little sense. It made sense because she reminded me that a) a prestigious publication has an essay of mine right now and is deliberating; and b) a prestigious literary agent is looking at my book. Both of these things are true! They’re flattering! It’s great! BUT, I am also the type of person who feels that more than likely neither of those great possibilities will pan out, and, I guess I am too superstitious to assume they will.

Now I’m a bit muddled. I think what I’m getting at is that it feels difficult to accept that blessings are all around me, and that, well, great things could happen for me and do happen for me and that I’m very lucky and I don’t need to feel guilty for having time off or good fortune or the ability to go to yoga sometimes. And, on the other I hand, nor do I need to feel less than authentic when shitty things happen to me.

—-

May I be open to the joy and happiness in my life. And may you, reader, too.