A Walk With My Self

Years ago I was introduced to the book, A Walk in the Woods, which was a written account of Bill Bryson’s attempt at hiking the Appalachian Trail, arguably the most-known through-hike along the east coast of America, along with his friend Stephen Katz, whose name was definitely changed to protect his identity. They got along; they didn’t agree; they were diametrically different to one another. Humor, challenges, hunger, hurt feet, hurt pride, opportunities for reconnecting and reimagining the trail with every step is what engaged and endeared me to this travelogue. Maybe I’ll hike the Appalachian Trail someday, I considered only after reading this stranger’s notes. 

Reading and thinking about their journey makes me think about how divided I am inside of my Self, as if two people often (if not always) occupy the same body, mind, and heart. On any given day I can be either of those two selves, always in the present moment feeling and firmly believing I am the only self here, whichever of me that is. My thoughts and emotions range from the humorous to the divine, from oppressed to enlightened, and sometimes from contemplative and quiet to inspired action.  

I’m exhausted by me and all my thoughts that never cease percolating, constantly reaching their perceived brew-point and seeking a spout through which to pour themselves on and into whomever is the closest mug of reception. God bless my mugs: those holders of my emotions, thoughts, dreams, worries, and wishes. They drink me up (often without warning or notice that another swig is being forced down their throat), don’t complain or refuse the brew that is me, and tell me how they experience me, their feedback is always that which gives me reflections of my Self, more fodder for thinking, perceiving, being. Their generosity of holding — the holding of me like a role reversal just took place inside of these two sentences — as if I am now the cup and the coffee, both, and it is their hands enveloping the mug of me that keeps me steady, not spilling, and I warm them, their hands, their hearts. The holding is also the blessing. 

I am testing a new cocktail today: a new experience of and as my Self. I am testing that which previously I have only ever theorized. I am curious to know if my internal brewing can produce something not just delectable, but duplicatable. I am mixing, shaking, and stirring my heart’s vat of thoughts, feelings, and ideas. They’re here with me in each of my actions, my touch points, my vulnerabilities. 

Perhaps a walk in the woods with both my selves is exactly what I need: a nice 2,200-mile trek to see that I am not now, and not ever, alone, that relationships are hard no matter where on the trail I/we happen to be in this moment, and pouring myself into the living of this life of mine is exactly where and what I wish, for warm hands and for warm hearts, for both giving and receiving the blessing of all of me, exactly as I am in my now. Thank you for letting me touch you. Thank you for holding me. I see, the relationship is the blessing.

Magma

You know how you just know when you’re moving into a new chapter of life? For me the sensation is akin to Mary Poppins’ declaration, “I shall stay until the wind changes.” That’s how it’s always felt for me, like the subtle but immediately noticeable scent the rain leaves when it strikes the pavement on a summer August afternoon and the next afternoon it’s raining autumn. 

I’m considering writing a book about the chapters of my life and wondering how many chapters one life is allotted? And what might my chapter headings read?

1. The Early Years

2. Educated — Striking Out On My Own

3. What Russia Taught Me at 21

4. Marriage, Motherhood and Misbeliefs

5. Divorce Part 1 — What I Left Behind

6. Nancy’s Couch

7. Divorce Part 2 — What I Created

8. Learning to Live Without

9. How Grief Taught Me to Parent Myself

10. On Death, Dying and Being Myself

Reading that out loud to myself is an interesting energetic progression from up to down, to backtrack out of sheer curiosity, to leave me wondering at my own journey. What is the title of this next chapter? This chapter, whose imminent arrival was foretold on the first of the last winter days, spring and my day of birth beckoning me forward and toward them. 

Ocean basins, mountain ranges, islands, volcanoes, and earthquakes are all formed and/or occur because the ocean floors are continually moving. The moment of impact for those of us occupying the planet always seems sudden and unexpected, as if Mount St. Helens decided in that very 1980s May moment to spew her opinion up and out and down her own sides. But just as Piero Ferrucci reminds us that “The transformation has begun long before we become aware of it,” so, too, did Helen’s eruption on a Sunday not come about at her bedtime on the previous Saturday night, or even as she stretched her arms open on that transformational morning. It was just the moment a new chapter heading got assigned, but it certainly wasn’t the beginning of her book; nor would it be her ending, either. 

There is magma moving deep within my heart, beating out the rhythm of me. My chapters will continue to be written as I continue to erupt on the scene of this life I’m living, again and again.

Working It Out

We all come to this world to work something out. What’s mine to work out is not anyone’s but mine. From my very beginning I learned, (was told), and understood that living my life was to operate in a synergistic and centuries-old system of exchanges: a system in which actions and thoughts generate literal translations and manifestations of either good or bad consequences. Right and wrong were easily explained (to me), choices could (and should) always be predetermined, thereby avoiding the wrong sorts of consequences. 

The way I played the game was a simple points system: for every good choice I got a deposit in my reward bucket (that I imagined was always strapped around my waste like a lopsided saddlebag); for every bad choice my bucket got dumped out, regardless of how full it was. In the moments between my wrong-choosing(s) and the dumping(s) all I ever heard (in my own head) was Monopoly’s™️ mascot, Rich Uncle Pennybags, in his tauntingly nasal voice reading to me straight from the “Community Chest” card pile:

GO TO JAIL
Go Directly To Jail
DO NOT PASS GO
DO NOT COLLECT $200

How do you recover from the missteps? From all the personally-induced and enforced jailed time? Is it possible to ever fill (or overflow) the bucket? What does that win me? Can one purchase Grace? Whose is it to give? Does such a thing even exist? I’m just asking for a friend. 

Earning or deserving my place here on planet surface, among the myriad other living souls surrounding my own, this is what I am here to work out: my own belonging. 

Lentil Soup for the Soul

Jacob arrived on the heels of Esau, disqualifying him for both the birthright and the blessing. Hungry and impulsive by some accounts, Esau exchanged the birthright, which he possessed, for a bowl of lentil soup, which Jacob held. The blessing was later taken from Isaac and stolen from Esau by stratagem? Deceit? Necessity? Prophecy? If I were to ask Jacob and his mother Rebekah their motives I am certain they would invoke faith and its familiar-to-me narrative of control in a religious realm that preaches its opposite.

My earthly arrival saw me born in the covenant, inheriting both birthright and blessing by mere virtue of my parents’ choices before me. I chose nothing but received everything I never questioned: certainty and judgment. I inherited a system called faith, which system taught me to judge myself using a clearly-defined rubric of wrong and right, bad and good, wicked and worthy. 

Control groups in experiments exist to prove the experiment works, to prove the effectiveness of that which is being controlled. In my case, it was me; I was in control by being controlled. It has been said that control, or rather the illusion of control, is the master addiction. My inheritance was that illusion: a system designed to manufacture the management of a life via stratagem? Deceit? Necessity? Prophecy? And call it faith.

I wasn’t selected for the experimental group of this grand life experiment. I was this week old when it occurred to me that my having filtered all my life’s decisions, choices, relationships, and paths through this system and its definitions is what is still — even after years into my self-removal from the familiarity of a lifetime of inherited internal control — positioning me against my Self and what I want to believe I believe. My mental versus my messaged definitions of what it means to be this soul having this human experience keep colliding. 

These collisions ignite an internal inquisition rivaled in extremes I imagine to the infamous inquisitions of religious history — the confrontations, the rooting out, and the castigation of those found guilty of heresy. Heresy falls squarely in my inherited system’s definition of wrong, bad, and wicked. Colliding with my Self is a sin. 

Where is my Jacob offering me his bowl of lentil soup? I would happily trade in exchange for an orthodoxy that exists as a relief to this control that is my birthright. Believe me when I tell you there is nothing impulsive about my love and longing for lentil soup.

Rumi’s Field

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.
— Rumi

I am standing in the field of which Rumi writes, a field in which wrong and right do not exist and in their place exists something else entirely, perhaps it’s only Love. 

I am standing in the courage of my own conviction, the result of having shed the old patterns of outside authority, of having shakily let go of some others’ (some men) outside of me always knowing what is best and better for me than I know for me. 

Here in this field I am speaking, being, living my own authority. I am the knowing and the deciding and the doing. I see only so far as the headlights’ beams of my inner vision reach and it is far enough to move my Self forward, moving the casting light with me as I step and steer by my own choosing, here in this field of Love. 

The voice which I alone understand, which voice speaks the language of my heart, comes from deep within and I cast a line, hoping to secure my courage here in this field where Love resides and presides. Am I allowed to drop anchor in Love’s Field? Whose permission should I obtain? Is there a he here to tell me?

There are voices on the outside, voices that are not in or from the field, voices that reside in the luxurious judgment seats of wrong and right. They are loud, these declarations and condemnations against and for my comings and goings, my being, and my feeling. 

I remember Rumi promised to meet me “beyond [those] ideas,” and hear his weighted word in the delivery of an idea and then I feel the tug of my anchoring line, a reminder that their declarations are only ideas, theirs and not mine. 

My location in the Field is closer to its edge than I prefer. But I am IN the field and from this vantage point I can still see the inroads of my own Courage intersecting with the deeply-grooved dead-ends dug up over four decades of all the his’s declarations. Is Rumi here to meet me?

I grab my secured line and hold tightly, gently placing hand over heart over hand one beat at a time, one tug and then the next, and slowly pull and navigate my Authoritative Self closer to Center, closer to the Field’s Center, closer to the Great Heart of the Universe, closer to Love. Rumi is not here. He never meant to be.

Here is where She has been waiting all along: only Love is here. 

Meditation

Even though she is one of the last of the “wild women,” her connection to, and understanding of, the heart-whispered wisdom of her feminine forebears still lacks the finesse she yearns to embody. Is it written somewhere? Buried? Accessible? Can she read and study, commit to memory, journey to its truths and be transformed?

The earliest hours of the morning in the village that raised her are a precious and carefully-guarded treasure; these are hours she does not confide to anyone except to the Ancient Wild One: Divinity, Herself. 

As if a key-change is written and executed with perfect precision in the musical score of morning, her breath catches differently when it is tasked to open her eyes at the same time. And so begins her morning communion with the Ancient Wild One:

Breath

Eyes

Heart

I am here

Lying prone, arms relaxed at her side, the eyes once opened gently close with the deep exhalation of breath, awareness hovering in that space reserved for the sacred, the Holy of Holies, the innermost sanctuary: the heart. Here she wanders on purpose for the soul’s purpose of divine instruction, the seeking and exchange of the wisdom that comes only through these hallowed halls on whose walls are “written not with ink, but . . . in fleshy tables of the heart” (2 Cor 3:3). Here is where the Ancient Wild One resides and presides, always beating in time with the composition of her own living heart. 

What is the wisdom she seeks to know, to embrace, to embody today? 

“Is what I believe even allowed?”

The Ancient Wild One, Divinity, Herself, beats the question and the answer together in perfect harmony: 

Soft

Gentle

Allow

Love

The way through is Love.

What would Love allow?

Love is allowance.

Her heart, this Love, is the most powerful presence on planet surface; she is imbued with all of the ancient wisdom she keeps forgetting to remember is right here in this most sacred of rooms, her own inner sanctuary. 

The Divine Feminine — The Ancient Wild One — speaks, breathes and lives in, through, and as her. All that is written and buried is accessible on the insides of her gently closed lids, beating and breathing through Love’s lips, the heart-whispered wisdom of the Divine Collective. Love lives. 

Hallelujah

A deep deep inhalation followed by a full-breathed exhale — the all at once kind, looking like the wind emoji and wondering if this is what is meant by life imitating art? My wondering takes me underneath the exhale, curious if I can name it, say out loud the source of this Hallelujah’s inception. I know there is power in a name. I remember that “Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19), and if Mary kept her things to herself, should I, too, keep mine? 

My full-breathed exhales are my Hallelujah Collective, a chorus of sorts, and much like Handel in his writing of his own Hallelujah Chorus (much better-known than my own), “I did think I did see all Heaven before me, and the great God Himself seated on His throne, with His company of Angels,” I know my exhales are full of the god in me accompanied by my own company of angels surrounding, lifting, and lighting my next breath forward. 

Notable Hallelujah’s:

— Every time his touching of me stopped. Always temporarily, but stopped. In those moments I exhaled.

— 9/11 peace accord with my Self, the confirmation that we two, she and me, would remain standing but on separate ground from him

— He agreeing, without dissertation or discussion of any kind, to my having full custody of our co-creation, my whole heart, my girl

— The signature from a credentialed-stranger, publicly decreeing a legal unbinding on the outside of what would take more years apart than ever together to undo what twisted up and bound my inside beliefs

— A name, my own from birth, restored as patronymic for only a small fee + the paperwork

— Another signature, many times repeated, binding me to a home, a place, a mortgage, my own alone

— Dance recitals, voice performances, graduations, life moments complete with staged photographs to capture forever the unbindable and impossible to capture love for this precious daughter

— Graduate work with my own heart, Spiritual Psychology, reviewing, revisiting, forgiving, reimagining, and reinventing my own breaths and transmuting them one at a time into my own Hallelujah Collective, here to be treasured, acknowledged, shared and seen. By me. By you. For the heavenly seeing of the god in me bowing to the god I was, only always doing the best she could.

And look at her now: breathing.

Hallelujah. 

The Enemy In Me

The dictionary defines enemy as “a person who feels hatred for, fosters harmful designs against, or engages in antagonistic activities against another; an adversary or opponent” and enemies as “persons, nations, etc., that are hostile to one another.”

Enemy feels so harsh inside of me, the insistence of one’s existence in relation to me a sucker punch directly to my gut and I resist the very thought of identifying anyone I know as one! But hostile? I can relate to that. Hostile is only “opposed in feeling, action, or character; antagonistic: as in hostile criticism.” Hostile is also defined as “not friendly, warm, or generous; not hospitable.” Hostile is gentler on my stomach than a sucker punch; merely the bloated discomfort from overeating combined with inactivity on Thanksgiving. 

Reflecting on the dictionary’s definition of hostile, my insides start to churn, my tummy hurts, my body constricts like the snake coiling around its own centermost point and I know there at my own centermost point I have found the enemy: residing inside of me.

I understand why it feels so harsh, that sucker punch directly to my gut, because my adversary is me. For a lifetime of choices, decisions, actions taken all in the name of forward movement, achievement, and accomplishment on the outside, my inside opponent was running interference and spreading counterintelligence to the very same body that was being given entirely different direction. I am a walking contradiction, living in opposition to and as myself. 

I didn’t know. I didn’t understand or comprehend how stealthily I was working my own subterfuge whose eventual success was my own demise. It’s two opposing forces simultaneously advancing but their meeting halts them both and no one moves ahead. No one wins. 

That upset inside of my gut was my lighthouse in the approaching storm, warning me of impending danger, even death, if I didn’t alter my course. But the course I had set and was navigating on autopilot seemed immovable and perfect in its path. 

Rumi says “The wound is the place where the light enters you,” or if you prefer Leonard Cohen’s version in his Anthem lyrics, “There is a crack in everything / That’s how the light gets in.” Suffice it to say I cracked; I looked in the mirror and didn’t recognize myself. I heeded the light warning me to steer clear of the rocks and by way of that redirection I exposed Rumi’s wound. 

I licked my wound for a long time, and by “long time” I mean YEARS. To be fair, I am not a professional and didn’t know the severity and depth of my wound. I was treating myself for a scrape with a bandaid but had a gaping head wound in need of specific and guided attention. 

My recovery has been slow and not always visible. I have suffered numerous setbacks. I have not always seen a way out or a way forward. I have been often at odds with my enemy within, one or the other of us discounting the voice that wasn’t our own. I have learned to speak a new language and now claim fluency, practicing its use every day. I am still healing. I am friends with me.

The Summer of 1997

It was the summer of 1997: cash in-hand was money; the prolific use of debit cards didn’t exist; CDs were being ripped and sold on the black market (I definitely bought from that market); Celine Dion and Whitney Houston were still singing to us;  Bill Clinton was at the start of his second term; Princess Diana would die at the end of this summer; DVDs were brand-new technology; the internet existed, but only just — access to the World Wide Web was limited to your dial-up connection and google had yet to be coined a verb.

In June of this year I moved back to Russia for what would become a summer never to be forgotten. 

My US-based company had a teeny-tiny satellite office located in Moscow, Russia, employing two or three Russians max, plus one American expat and his wife, who were in their mid-20s like me and my husband. We all spoke fluent Russian. I was sent over to train the teeny-tiny office staff on some data entry work our US office wanted to delegate and we allowed three months in Moscow for that very purpose. The American expat would make arrangements for our housing while we were in-country and I just needed to show up, passport and work Visa in-hand, ready to work.

Having lived in Russia previously, although never in Moscow, I arrived with  my rose-tinted glasses of loving everyone firmly perched on my nose and completely oblivious to the harsh fear-based system of what life in Russia actually looks like. 

Newly-arrived in our rented for the summer apartment I was surprised to see the rooms literally bulging with the landlady’s belongings, as if we had a key to someone else’s home but I didn’t want permission to be there. Had they left in a hurry, carelessly cramming their personal effects underneath the mattress believing my lying on top of their pile wouldn’t disclose their secrets in full view? The lingering layer of grease atop every single surface in the flat belie their claims to cleanliness and order. Unpacking meant keeping my suitcases open and accessible because there was no space, nook or cranny available for my belonging or belongings. 

Where to place my computer monitor and the beast of a tower needed to operate it? Plugging in to the local landline in order to connect, patiently, with the office nine hours behind me now required planning and hope that the phone here would be connected, dependent on a real life operator deciding my worthiness of connection. 

And so it happened on a summer’s eve that we went for a walk, exploring our neighborhood, hoping to find a street vendor selling some of our favorite tasty treats and we realized we were walking distance from Gorky Park, known back in the heyday of the Soviet era as an amusement park and gathering place for families. 

Our excitement quickly turned to disappointment and then concern as we found ourselves in a desolate has-been space, not kept up or even safe for after-dark strolling. Deciding quickly we would rather be in the grease-filled apartment figuring out supper than here in the middle of Gorky Park uncertain as to who or what we might encounter, we retraced our steps back to the flat where all of our possessions were locked behind two doors and five keys. 

Placing the first of our five keys in door one, lock one, it was immediately apparent something was wrong. The door was locked, yes, but from the inside. Someone was inside the apartment and we couldn’t get in!

Knocking and banging on the door from the inside out to us we could discern the voice of our landlady and her husband — yelling at us that they would not let us in, they were calling the police, what was ours was now theirs and they knew what we were up to!

What in the actual HELL was happening?! 

Remember, 1997. I’m in the middle of Moscow, Russia, where the KGB and the Mafia are interchanged for one another as seamlessly as tit for tat. This is the land where an American goes missing and no one blinks because they don’t even notice. 

Heart pounding, I plead through the door for her to please open, please talk with me, please explain what happened, why is she upset? What is her concern? Can we discuss this? 

No! The operator at the phone company called her, told her how frequently I’m plugging into “that computer thing” and “I know what you’re doing here! I know what you’re trying to do.” 

Dear god, what is she talking about?! 

“I have already called the police! They are on their way. You will be arrested. I am confiscating your computer.”

No discussion. No earlier call. No indication that this was coming. What is she afraid of? Accusing me of doing? Having me arrested for what?! 

My heart is pounding louder than my thoughts.

Can I just have my stuff? My suitcase? Keep the damn computer; it doesn’t belong to me anyway. I swear I’m only working. I’m only connecting with my office in the US. Are you worried we won’t pay the phone bill? Is that what this is about?! Are the police really necessary? 

Where can I go? 

And then rushing up the stairs are my co-worker American expat and Sergei, the Russian who works with him. They received a tip-off phone call that something was going down at our apartment, that we were being used as pawns in the larger Mafia-played game of business in Moscow. 

Quickly, go down and get in Sergei’s car. Leave the premises. Don’t worry about your things. Remove yourself before the police arrive. The rest will be taken care of. Go. NOW!

And heart-pounding crouched down from the back seat of the dark car I watch the police storm the building, a long pause of time, and then Sergei carrying my suitcases out and quietly placed in the trunk, and with a tap on the roof of the car the driver takes me away, only turning on his headlights when we are three streets gone.

Is Big Brother still watching? He definitely was in 1997.

The Right Man

When the one place I’d been taught my entire life to feel the most secure, safe, and certain suddenly became uninhabitable for me, I wanted an exit plan that would ensure the love of those I was inevitably leaving behind remained intact. It’s taken years to navigate, but based on the security, safety and certainty on which I stand today, I feel nothing but gratitude.

I was raised inside of a strictly dogmatic theology: right and wrong, black and white, good and evil were as clearly defined for me as the ten words on my weekly second grade spelling test. And just like the learning of my weekly vocabulary words required writing sentences for a grade to be sure I understood every word’s derivation, pronunciation and correct usage, so, too, did my parents and Sunday School teachers require a regular repetition of concepts, scripture stories, and commandments. 

I was the poster child for GOOD GIRL. I made every decision only through prayer; I participated in service opportunities at Olympic athlete levels; I turned every frown upside down and changed it to a smile; I quoted scriptures as off-handedly as the ABC song; I was a youth leader, showing my peers through my example exactly how easy it was to live righteously; I taught Sunday School for every single age bracket the packed Sunday service schedule could allow; I served a full-time mission. In Russia. I learned Russian to teach the Russian people in their own language everything I was told I know about God and Jesus Christ and the salvation of your soul. I know all about your soul, where it came from, why it’s here, where it’s heading next, and what you can do about it. I baked my own bread, could sew my daughter dresses, married the “right” man, kept a spotless house, served others without ever once thinking of myself, studied my scriptures, taught the 5 year-olds to be like Jesus, taught the 25 year-olds to believe in things unseen, taught the 55 year-olds to be less judgmental. 

The right man I married stopped attending church. No one at church asked why. They all made righteously safe assumptions about his whereabouts — must be at the hospital, obviously making rounds, so studious that one, God bless him. 

The right man I married yelled at me when I spoke to him without invitation, when I entered his (our) office unannounced — the computer and his access to porn lived there in the dark, when my (our) daughter cried (“Make her stop, goddammit!”), when his laundry wasn’t folded to his liking, when I wasn’t to his liking, when I weighed only 90 pounds and couldn’t feed myself or my baby or him but he wasn’t going to take care of me.

Do you hear me?

He wasn’t.