Category: paradox


(originally written April 2015, but got stuck in Drafts because I never “finished” it…)

My springtime inspiration is to stop being nice.  STOP BEING NICE!  And, very much like that epic reality show from my teen years, to START BEING REAL.

The other, non-trademarked words I’ve used for this is to speak my truth with love.  It’s different than being nice.  It involves being honest, being open to hearing the other side, and being open to people not liking me or what I think/feel.

Ugh.

I have a gripping fear of conflict.  And this new intention pushes me right up against it.  I’ve worked very diligently in these 35 years to construct a personality and a life that no one could fight with.  I’m quick to say “I’m sorry”.  If I can’t say anything nice, I don’t say anything at all.  I hate conflict.

So with my new intention to stop being nice and start speaking my truth, I’m getting in more conflict — mostly at home.  Conflict still sucks, but I’m sticking with it, trying not to shut down, and to grab on to any opportunity to say what’s true for me without being a bitch.  It’s a challenge… How do I be angry and loving at the same time?  How do I be fearful and loving at the same time?

Sitting with these questions this morning, here’s what I came to:

My aversion to conflict is rooted in the experience of disconnectedness with another person.  Yet the reality is that we’re always connected.  We just are — it’s the nature of existence.  By “connected”, I mean “made of the same substance, with no distinction between where I stop and where you begin”.  For anyone who hasn’t had that epiphany yet (or read Ken Wilber), this might be a wild leap that makes the rest of this post meaningless to you.  But for me, this understanding is a building block of my understanding of my experience on this planet.  If we are all inherently connected, any experience of conflict is an illusion, a misunderstanding.

And so, if the experience of conflict doesn’t actually mean the actualization of that dreadful fear of disconnection, I don’t have to run from it and hide.  I can stay in that cloudy vague land where things don’t make sense, and trust that we’ll find our way out somehow.  The only flashlight I have is my self-understanding, my experience.  And what I can understand of the other person.  With that in mind, we can explore.  We can keep going until we find solid footing, something that makes sense.  We can be curious, and real, and loving… all at the same time.

I’ve been feeling the rewards of persistence lately — it’s a trait I think I embody well.  When I’m not coming from a clear place it manifests as stubbornness and control-freak tendencies, but lately I’ve been doing well at just sticking with what I believe in, holding on in rough waters, and just breathing when I don’t know what else to do.

And now I’m experiencing the beauty on the other side… the relief of experiencing what I believed was possible: the depth of connection with my husband, the utter joy of being a mama, the nourishment of social connections in town.

Tonight, I got to feel the reward of persistence in the context of my current theatrical pursuit: a community theater production of Godspell.  The process has been frustratingly slow and lonely.  Our rehearsals have been spaced so far apart that we forget what we’ve already blocked, and the cast is a group of people who all know everyone else but me… the outsider in all number of ways, it seems (socially, politically, spiritually, financially…)

We’ve been rehearsing twice a week since June, with multiple cast members absent each time for various vacations and other conflicts.  it’s felt scattered and incoherent — Godspell is such a nonsensical show anyways!  I think we’ve all been confused about the purpose of what we’re doing up till now… I’ve left rehearsals feeling lonely and unsure of how we’re going to pull it all together.  But with a show like this, there’s no choice but to keep going.  I made a commitment to the cast and the director when I joined the show, and I wouldn’t break it except in dire circumstances (I’ve only regretted not quitting a show once… a horrible production with a director who had no vision and tried to cover up that lack with sex humor).

Tonight at rehearsal, something clicked into place.  It was our first time ever having two rehearsals in a row, and our first week seeing each other more than twice.   We’re starting to know the songs and the dances well enough that we can really perform them, rather than be thinking about what comes next.  It lets us be in our bodies, fully in the physical experience of the moment — and being in the moment together is what deepens connections.  It was tangible, in our eye contact, in our joking with each other, in our comfort with physical contact (encouraging pats on the back, engaging more fully in partnered choreography…).  Maybe the change is just in me, and everyone else has been feeling this with other people all along, but I don’t think so.  It really feels like we’ve reached another level of group cohesiveness — what Edie Turner (a favorite professor in UVA’s Anthro Dept) would call communitas.  It’s that expansion of awareness beyond the self, to include awareness of the group as a whole.  It’s one of the key things I love about theater, this experience of collective intent and collective action, giving myself over to that.  I was worried we’d never get there with this show, and tonight I feel grateful for the familiar feeling filling my body and my heart.  This is what I live for…  and I’m reminded yet again that maybe the period of isolation and chaos and not knowing what comes next, maybe that is actually a necessary step in opening to a more fulfilling experience.  It seems a paraodx… and embracing paradox seems to be a major piece of being human.

Here I am in Ann Arbor, at the annual Institute for NASCO, the North American Students of Cooperation.  The organization is largely focused on student co-ops at universities, but also includes community co-ops and food co-ops and worker-owned cooperative businesses.  I’ve had a roller coaster of a day — I presented a few workshops with the lovely Sky Blue (author of the article I posted here yesterday).  They went okay; some folks were inspired and others not (they fill out evaluations afterwards).  After presenting the workshops I got into a major mind spin around the work that I’m doing in the world, wondering if I’m “earning my keep”.  I have so many opportunities and possibilities to take advantage of (class background, college education, public speaking skills, the commune) that allow me to support my life through presenting workshops and sitting in meetings and doing a few hours a week of physical labor in the garden and tofu hut.  Is the work I’m putting into the world really valuable enough to the world that it provides for my basic needs and desires?  Especially with leaving the commune, my oasis of non-oppressive living, I fear that I’ll fall right back into the mode of benefiting from my own capability to navigate through a system that is at its core oppressive.

blech.  All of this has been up for me in the last few weeks.  And now being here at a conference focused on the cooperative movement, as I’m stepping away from living cooperatively.  So yet again, I’m asking myself “why?”.  I’m passionate about cooperation and collaboration!  Why am I moving my life specifically away from that?  Grad school?  I don’t know.  I’m wanting something else in my life, more connection with the larger world.  Is grad school really going to provide that?