Tuesday, January 26, 2010

My future self

My future self comes to visit.

Breathless. Exhilarated. I feel such vast appreciation in the midst of all this glory. This is my own house, my home, my very own space. I am young, and strong, and impressive. I revel in it.

The mirror reflects my face and I see a woman that I love as a daughter, but more. My young, beautiful, lost-but-waking-up little self. I see into my eyes as I let no one else see. I feel how I’m holding myself in such strict control that I twitch, and I’m uncomfortable from all the hunching of shoulders, tensing of muscles. Poor girl, so strict with myself.

From top of mind she melts and melds with me. I feel her shimmering, massaging my mind and muscles. With her essence I become my mentor, guide, coach. I am infused with her appreciation for all that I am, her motherly love that is me as mother, not my mother internalized. I view myself from her vantage point, then my own. I am a stereogram.

She nudges my thinking, questions me gently and with compassion, injects pride into my self-inflicted shame when I finally own up to yet another way I’m still fooling myself.

She’ll flash in to talk me through a difficult moment. There have been times I have decided wilfully to ignore her, but she thinks that’s kind of cute and I’m doubly ashamed.

She shows me that I love this time in my life so intensely that I will always mourn it. Her ache of loss behind my lungs catches breath and heightens awareness of my life’s incredibleness.

My future self often stands behind me now, when I face my critics. I can handle anything, because, she whispers, I already have. She chants quietly, for just me to hear: I am strong, I am powerful, I am progressing.

Eventually, like dusk to night, she dissipates and fades in my consciousness.

But increasingly, I trust myself to find her again, to call her instead of waiting for her to appear. She’s with me more and more. One day, maybe we will merge. Until then, I look forward to her visits.

Friday, January 22, 2010

What if

I like to play the "What if" game. I think of a loose theory to explain something huge, like the meaning of the world or why evil exists or another unsolvable thing. Then I pretend to assume that the theory is true; that it has, in fact, been scientifically proven, without any reasonable doubt, no matter how fantastic. I accept its truth, entirely. And then I think, "so what would be the implications of that?"

It's interesting, and keeps my cycles cycling. If any of these what if's are interesting to you, I'd love a discussion about what it would mean IF that were true. I try avoid judgments about whether the implications are good or bad in nature. I'm looking to explore ideas, not debate about values. It's not that values aren't interesting in their own right. I just don't have the emotional energy for values debates right now.

Here are some possibilities I've played with in my background cycles lately:

What if body-based consciousness is actually a filtration system to purify the soiled energy of existence?

What if it turns out that cancer cell mutation occurs in direct response to particular emotional stimuli, repeated over time, as opposed to a physical cause?

What if every living consciousness actually is connected to a universal consciousness that is everything?

You get the idea. I'm interested in lots of things, these are just the ones I've got on my mind right now. Can you share the ones that you like to play with?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A Use for the Monthly Blues

So I've been asked to share my method for significantly shortening what I call the monthly blues - 3-5 days every month that I feel strong emotions that could lead to depression. Three friends have asked, and I have tried to explain it. One said she thinks it could work but isn't comfortable to try it. A second now thinks I'm insane, I think. The third tried it and said it worked for her, too. But two data points are not a trend, so take it for what it's worth.

I will start by saying this: hope and love have protected me from the despair that could have claimed me as I came to understand this world we all share. Not that I do. But much of what I see, if I focus on it, could convince me that there is no hope. I have often succumbed to the negative.

So I choose to focus, most of the time, on the goodness that I find, every waking hour, in the people I happen to cross paths with. It’s a discipline I’ve been developing over a decade, and it has changed my life. It has shifted me into a place of openness beyond what I thought I would achieve. Not that it’s particularly advanced. But I’m still pretty proud of how far I’ve come so far, and curious about my potential.

Hope is the rope I use to climb out of holes, and I do whatever I can to strengthen it. I used to limit hope to what is rational, what my skeptical mind can understand in terms of science. Since then, I’ve slowly come to accept that science today is closer to the primitive ideas of leeches and alchemy than it is to a true understanding of this world, universe and everything.

But I digress.

The thing about hope is that I do what I can to strengthen it. And, every month, I use the irritatingly pushy, tearful hormones of my menstrual cycle to test its strength. Instead of looking for something to justify my clearly upset state of mind, I purposefully make stuff up. Imaginings worthy of my mood, and then taken further into the darkness of loss than the hormones ever intended.

I have a vivid imagination.

And so I test my hope against despair, to find out if I am still capable of coming back from that depth. How deep can I go and how thin does it stretch? Using my imagination to construct unspeakable losses, my most guarded fears, I gently and carefully push as far as I can into the worst thing I can imagine at that moment. It’s like yoga, stretching a muscle, and when I feel it’s enough, I wait there, breathe through it, feel it. My heart aches. My throat aches. I often cry openly. I begin to go numb as I did at the very depth of my previous experiences of despair. And then I slowly, carefully pull myself back to neutral, using hope and love.

I need music and movement to engage this process, so I generally find a time to exercise when there’s no one else around, the music chosen to aid progression in both directions. I provide myself with every support. I make sure I have water, and paper and pen if I need to capture anything along the way, and the time and privacy I require. The process takes about 20 minutes. If it doesn’t come, it doesn’t come - hey, at least I got a workout. I won’t force it; I just engage with the thoughts to see if they deepen as I move.

Afterward, I am a bit emotionally drained, but more clear, less prone to tears and sadness through my menstruation. I feel stronger, more able to face daily challenges and stay open, come out of my protective space.

I know that these simulations cannot adequately prepare me for real battle with myself if despair comes. It’s like Linda Hamilton’s character in Terminator 2. She got a glimpse of the future and she is preparing herself.

But my body is forcing me into this stupid, depressive state and I can’t seem to avoid it. It lasts several days if I do nothing about it. One of these workouts, and it’s gone. Done. Consistently. And when I don’t do it, the mood does not lift for at least three days, often five.

I’ve contemplated the possibility that it’s a natural bodily process intended to drive me into deeper reflection. For what purpose? Ah, questions!

I don’t think I’m too far off base in thinking of hope as a muscle. And love, too. I think strengthening them daily through good thought-food is important, but for me, I also need to stretch them, test them with weights, so I can believe that if I really need them, they are ready. I am ready.

In the end, I don’t need any of these musings to be true. I just need to do what works for me, and if I can clear that damn monthly funk with contrived emotional escalation over a single workout, well, I have just the imagination to do it.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Vying for attention

It’s intense, this parenting of very young children. One morning contains twenty to eighty emotional swings, and I just have to flow with it, regardless of what other responsibilities I have or the pressing need to be still, alone, with my thoughts.

But when I can flow with it, it’s awesome. It’s so good. They can sense the difference between when I’m really with them and when I’m only doing the minimum so I can spare cycles for the rest of life. When they know I’m with them, we laugh like we mean it, get totally wound up in the excitement of being together. We’re silly, rambunctious, and playful. We have fun. Actual fun. Love overflows. It radiates from us and between us, connecting us. Until the moment I realize that some time’s gone by and I haven’t checked in on the agenda, at which point they deflate, sensing they’re losing me.

They make it harder and harder for me to redirect any cycles, by throwing fits over small things, crying uncontrollably over little hurts, instigating fights. And dealing with that escalation eventually recalls my full attention, at which point, I resign myself to working through it and settle in, usually with the words, “I need a hug. Do you need a hug?” So far, they always do.

How long it takes me to resign myself depends a lot on the level of anxiety I feel about whatever is taking my attention. Sometimes it’s a real effort to pull myself back.

I wish I could just stay present with them. If the agenda is tentative or not important, I can sometimes escape its watchful eye. Usually there really is something pressing that needs doing within the next immediate timeframe in order to keep our lives moving forward acceptably. Cleaning, food prep, shopping, preparations for leaving and, of course, work. So I calm them down, give them a last helping of love in as present a way as I can, and turn on the TV. Bad Mom. Bad Mom.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Secret to my Success

I made 2 mistakes today. That I am aware of. And now, I am full of anxiety.

I can feel it bristling on me like magnetized filings standing on end, tugging my skin as if to lift my body into action. Fight or flight. But it’s a phantom, because the threat I’m reacting to isn’t as immediate as that. It’s nothing I can do anything at all about right now. So the anxiety is a waste. Useless. And still too real.

I try to use breathing, food, distraction. I engage with the kids only to have a sudden jolt of extra-hard anxiety wake me up to the danger again. My mind keeps a background process of worry running and distracting my attention. Scenes play themselves over again, the exact moment of a mistake, the back-and-forth of a heated conversation. In the background I am continually watching those scenes, pausing and rewinding over the moment I am at fault, with always a hope that I’m not and a wave of shame to, once again, discover I am. Faulty.

I feel that people who don’t love me will be unforgiving of my faults, and I can’t blame them, but that doesn’t make it any easier to be less faulty. I do my best, I pay attention, and once in awhile I miss something. Occasionally, especially if I’ve been under any amount of stress, my emotions rise and I speak too quickly, too honestly, too starkly. I lose the ability to both think and enact my social manifestation, and people see the true me. Including the faults.

People pretend to be forgiving of faults and will rarely tell you what they think. Having been the listening ear for many a talkative manager of people, I can assure you that judgments are swift and harsh. A couple of mistakes too close together, and they’ve lost confidence in you. It only takes one major screw-up to take a person who was on the fast track into the next no-future mid-management “promotion.” Three mistakes and it’s a performance improvement plan – PIP for short. That is how fast the world judges failure.

I live in perpetual fear of failure, by the way, in case that wasn’t clear.

The way I feel after failure is so out-of-control bad that it can incapacitate me. As long as I succeed, I am safe. Even a mild failure trips me off my game, but a big one – well, there have not been many, let me tell you. I won’t let that happen. I’d rather go through labour again. Failure is simply not an option until I figure out how to experience it without coming so close to the edge. Which of course won’t happen without practice, which I simply cannot allow.

One thing that gets in my way is that my ordering of the universe seems to rank priorities differently than many other people. So I have to fake it, and practice, and mess it up and have the terrible, horrible pain of anxiety drill the lesson into me until I internalize the concept and stop making a fool of myself by showing my faults to people who don’t love me. When you do that, you may never live it down. You may never be allowed to have grown beyond it. Reputation must be guarded.

But none of this means I don't risk. I take risks, try new things, jump into complicated problems about which I can't predict the solvability. And I damn well better succeed. Or at least not fail.

I am full of anxiety. It’s ridiculous. It’s embarrassing. It’s the secret to my success.

Friday, January 15, 2010

I can decide

They are criticizing me.

His words come with little bangs, bumps. His finger pokes my chest with one admonition, then he affectionately rubs my head too hard and pretends he isn’t disappointed in me while clearly letting me know he is. Disappointed.

Her words come with irritating, feather-light touches that tickle and itch at the same time. She speaks too softly, gently; then, suddenly, she whips around into an indignant shrew who can’t believe that I’m so stupid that I haven’t figured this out yet.

Now, in the same room, they are talking over each other with rising volume, each word directed at me.

I don’t know what to think anymore, but I feel tired and harangued. I begin to wish very strongly that a third adult would come – the one who can bring it all together. I notice myself scanning, frantically, looking at a door and hoping it will open, and that righteous third adult will enter and put a stop to all this noise.

And in an instant, I realize with dread that it’s me. I’m the third. It’s me.

I’m the grown up who will stand up for me. Under their voices, an internal dialogue begins that can only end in tears. No, un uh, I’m too little, I’m not ready. Yes, I can feel it, I’m ready. But maybe not willing?

And my voice blasts them backwards, “I’m doing the best that I can!” There is a beat of silence. Followed by a series of faster silent beats as they build the intensity to respond. They turn away from me. They look each other up and down.

And suddenly, they are debating, vehemently in favour of their particular approach to my development as a human.

Since they’re finally yelling at each other instead of at me, I can watch and listen.

She says, we expect too much of her. He says, she’s lazy. She says, the task is difficult. her nature is intense and high strung. He says, it’s her own fault for not paying enough attention along the way.

She says, she’s doing the work and she’s coming along faster than expected. He says, she’s capable of more, she should be doing more. She says, some of that capability has to go into maintenance, into research and development, it can’t just go into production. He says, with a sneer, don’t start metaphoring with me. If she were better, she could do more.

She says, how is she going to get better if she doesn’t take time out to work on herself? He says, she had 34 years to do that before she decided to bring two new people into the picture. She says, overall, she is an exceptionally good mother. He says, yes, “overall,” but each slip costs those children. Every one. They chip at them.

She pauses. She smiles gently. She says, maybe they need that. Maybe that’s part of the job. He stares at her as though he can’t believe what she’s said.

She presses on. Maybe, this process she’s going through now is as necessary to them, as an example, as it is to her, as a person. He scrutinizes her. He thinks about his arguments. His face softens. Finally, he concedes, yes, okay, that’s plausible.

But, he says, even at her best she still slips up too much. Too frustrated, too impatient. Too inclined to give herself a break.

And, she says, that’s where we agree and disagree. She still slips up too much, but she is, in my opinion, not inclined enough to give herself a break.

He harrumphs. They will come no closer, and turn their backs on each other.

They both have good points. I need to work harder. I need to work at as fast a pace as possible while still loving life, caring for my body, and learning more and more about how to be open to possibilities without wanting to control their outcomes.

And suddenly I realize, they argue so loudly because they aren’t in charge. They aren’t in charge. They don’t get to decide. I get to decide.

I have good judgment. Better judgment than them. I can trust myself to decide what is enough, when the line needs some slack, what the priorities should be. No need to let them keep me in second-guessing mode, pushing myself unnecessarily in spurts, then taking more recovery than I need as recompense.

I don’t have to let anyone yell at me. I don’t have to let anyone yell at me. I don’t have to let anyone yell at me. I don’t have to let anyone yell at me.

I can decide.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Losing Corporate

Imagine a close family member, perhaps an uncle or cousin, accused of rape. He's been kind to you, maybe gave you your start in life. You want to believe his innocence, the consensualness of the act, the ways that the victim created the circumstances. You want to rationalize. Perhaps this is an upstanding citizen, a contributor to the community, being accused by someone with a less than stellar reputation.

But something nags inside you – a feeling you’ve had in the pit of your stomach around him, an off-hand comment betraying callousness, a tendency towards the controlling, a flash of cold temper. Things you’ve explained away individually, but taken together in this context, breed doubt.

Over the following weeks, you find yourself investigating. Paying more attention to his behaviour. Talking with people who know him, and people who know the girl. Piecing together a story you never suspected. You become increasingly convinced that he is guilty, of more than just this crime. But you don’t have hard evidence, just a growing pile of complaints and innuendo that are starting to add up in your mind.

Generally, among your friends, family and community, he is still held in esteem. People dismiss the issue as “too bad for him” and “that little problem.” They dismiss his accuser as “that tramp” with “an axe to grind.” They point to his willingness to pay her a small settlement to close the issue, despite his innocence, as a sign of his benevolence. They call her unwillingness to accept it “stubbornness” and “troublemaking.” The few who acknowledge the truth do so with a forgiving wink and the certainty that now he will smarten up.

What do you do in this situation? How do you behave?

This is how I feel about losing the corporate world.

The world of strategic business took hold of me not long after University, a whole new subject of hands-on study and especially fascinating through the lens of “human resources,” which I thought of more as “people systems.” From the start, my role was removed from the actual people, in a head office, where I learned the basics of administration before an unreasonably fast promotion to management. I learned about policy making, organizational risk management, compensation and performance systems, how to manage people’s work and expectations. I learned to walk and talk corporate, and how to think corporate, and I was proud of my prowess. I participated in mergers, complete policy overhauls, adapting performance systems to get more performance, determining the worth of jobs within the structure of strategy. I learned to see the politics of a situation, and to identify how to help others stay alive, which evolved into coaching. I used my power for good within the company to reduce the damage of difficult decisions and cushion the fall for those we fired. I helped identify who was on board and who was beyond redemption, and make sure company resources were spent effectively.

For a long time, meeting goals and feeling like I helped people make great decisions within a company was satisfying. But over time, it started to matter to me what the company did, and the wider-scale worth of my work to the world. And that’s when it all started to unravel.

Since joining the non-profit world, I hear the assumptions in things that I myself would have said 9 months ago. I see the callous self-interest in even the most well-meaning corporate participants. I recognize the closed-off listening of people who have already decided what I'm saying doesn't fit their world-view. And I don’t want to. These are my friends and I love them. They aren’t on the same path as I am, and I shouldn’t expect them to see the way I do. I don’t want to see what’s distasteful to me and also WAS me, in them.

But bigger than that – I want to believe that the corporate world is the real world again. I want to believe that a good business plan can solve everything and that people deserve exactly what they get because we all make our choices. I want to believe that the pursuit of profit is a worthy goal that can help everyone by maintaining the economy. That giving to the food bank at Thanksgiving and paying my taxes meets my full responsibility to society . It fit. It made sense while justifying my own position.

The corporate world took me in when I needed acceptance, gave me systems to learn and ladders to climb when I needed esteem, and rewarded me with promotions, training, conferences, insider-treatment, influence and high salaries. Several wonderful people mentored me on my path to fitting in. I feel like I am betraying my family. And I miss being part of the elite, especially the level of influence that comes with that.

I’m in mourning.

And I’m angry, because I also feel betrayed. Corporations don’t have to be what they are. They just don’t. But I am powerless to affect the basic assumptions and beliefs that permeate the way things are. There is nothing I can say that will penetrate - I know this because nothing anyone said could have penetrated my logic either. So my work now feels as futile as ever despite being so much more important.

I have no good ending for this stream of consciousness.