“I love sharing about what I went through three months ago and all of the great revelations that came from it, but the challenge is speaking honestly about how I am doing right now in this moment. The real work is admitting to myself and others where I’m currently struggling,” Kim said as the room listened attentively. There was a moment of quiet after she finished, of people shifting in their seats and tilting their heads as the truth of her statement settled over the gathered group.
About a week ago I helped host a training for my job that brought together people from across the United States who work in long term recovery support communities. Kim was one of the attendees and her words have made me think about what I choose to share, when I share it, and with whom. As someone who has worked in the non-profit world for the past five years and plans to continue to do so into the future, I am really great at encouraging other people to be present, inviting others to share openly, and affirming other people’s feelings. However, I do not always take advantage of the opportunities to practice those sometimes uncomfortable growth habits myself. After reflecting on Kim’s words, I have realized that I too prefer sharing about experiences with a clear distinction of “then” versus “now.” Ones that can be summarized coherently with their meaning explained and my thoughts organized. I have found the ego can still rage while practicing partial vulnerability by desiring to look put together now even if what I am sharing about was challenging in the past. It’s much easier to talk about feelings in the abstract as theoretical possibilities rather than feeling them as they’re happening. And so, I am taking Kim’s words as an invitation to practice honesty and truth-telling in the present instead of waiting three months to write you a post about insights on my current experience.
So, how am I doing right now?
Right now I am in a whirlwind of enjoying the most beautiful Washington summer and knowing I’ll be leaving it all too soon. After moving to Seattle from St. Louis last August I will be returning to St. Louis less than a year later to prepare for graduate school in the fall. Scholarship money and the opportunity for an amazing education in social work has me packing up all my belongings and making the cross country trek once again. Beyond the incredible privilege it will be to go to graduate school (in a city I love, nonetheless) and come out on the other side with less debt than I thought was possible for this degree, there is still a sadness that things did not unfold as I had imagined. Seattle was my chosen next adventure in life for an undefined amount of time, and now that time is quickly coming to an end. I am sad to be leaving the mountains (my spiritual mother), the greenery, and the emergence of a new part of me. The me that reads voraciously on the 33 bus each morning and night. The me that takes more pictures than I have time to edit. The me that was learning how to navigate this new place and was on the brink of breaking through the “Seattle Freeze” to find community. Yes, I am sad, and I am trying to do nothing other than acknowledge that sadness. Because I know once I am back in St. Louis I will be overjoyed to be with friends and visiting familiar places, but that is all in the future and I’m trying to be here now.
Right now I am hesitantly optimistic about having my parents join me for the road trip from Seattle to St. Louis. I tend to participate in big life events (like moving across the country) by metaphorically holding my breath and just making it through. This doesn’t really allow for others to walk alongside me or share in those moments and so I am trying to work against that inclination. With my parents, learning how to redefine my relationship with them in the transition from high schooler to college student to adulthood has been difficult, but inviting them to join in this important life event feels like another step toward building the relationship I want with them.
Right now I am putting into practice a co-worker’s wise insight: “you can act your way into new thinking, but you can’t think your way into new behaviors.” Instead of thinking and strategizing about how to be more outgoing, I am trying to show up at social events where I don’t know anyone. Instead of planning out the best way to share my photography, I am taking pictures and posting them when I am able. Instead of wishing certain friendships were better, I am committing to calling, reaching out, having real conversations and sharing my desires in the relationship. Practicing these and other actions builds up a bank of experience to have new thoughts about. It provides evidence and a feedback loop for insight into the new actions and their resulting effects.
Right now I am gently observing my recent tendency to cram my weekend days and weeknights full of visiting the places on my Pacific Northwest bucket list, making plans for other trips, and making sure I don’t forget anything I, at some point in the past 9 months, thought would be interesting to check out. I ask myself — for what? To say I’ve been? Maybe. To document the experience? Highly likely. To try and counteract my sadness and soak up as much of this place as I can? Definitely. The important exercise here has been to regard this tendency with curiosity instead of judgment. Approaching my behaviors, thoughts, and reactions with curiosity is new to me, but allows more space for growth than self-criticism ever has.
Right now I am remembering a writing group focused on Ram Dass’ “Be Here Now” I participated in earlier this year. Much of the conversation and writing centered on distinguishing the truly important from societal pressures and the underlying insecurities from manifested behaviors. For example, in this moment the truly important is creating and sharing (this post) and not writing and re-writing it so many times because of societal and self-imposed pressure to make it “perfect.” The underlying insecurities are an aversion getting in touch with my current state of being and then sharing that with others, and the manifested behaviors are picking at scabs, checking my phone, and otherwise distracting myself from what I am doing (namely, typing this post). In “Be Here Now” Ram Dass writes, “Yeah I’m going to die- wow! Dig that! I’m going to live- wow! Dig that! Garbage- wow! New blossoms on the tree- wow!” He describes a surrender to what is in order to get out from under all of the stories we tell ourselves of how things ought to be or how we would have them be. I do not take that surrender as defeatist or nihilistic, but rather as a starting point for being more open and observant instead of convinced of my own perspective. I’m writing a blog post that no one might read- wow! Dig that! I’m writing a blog post that plenty of people might read- wow! Dig that! There’s dirt on my floor from my hiking boots- wow! A cool breeze blows through the window- wow! It’s all happening and I am here for it.
So that’s what is going on with me right now. This has been a response to the invitation of practicing what I encourage in others. As I continue down this professional path of supporting individuals and communities through social work, I must constantly confront the areas in which my own journey requires care, attention, and practice. Because in my opinion, we’re in this thing of life together and like Ram Dass says, “we’re all just walking each other home.”
Photograph by Cami Kasmerchak