Saturday, February 28, 2009

Working on mindfulness

I’ve bitten off more than I can chew, Lenten practice-wise. I’m trying to figure out which of these really matter, and keep in touch with the point of doing them. I’m also trying to remember, to be kind to myself in the process.

Yesterday before chapel, I went to the admin building to pick up an Episcopal Relief and Development meditation booklet and “hope chest.” I didn’t grow up with mite boxes, so I’m having to figure out how to use it as I go. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

There I was, at the foot of the stairs in Shires, just about to go up to the Dean of Students’ office and get this stuff. I bumped into a friend, an administrator for the School for Deacons. I really like her, and she’s easy to connect with. We hadn’t caught up in awhile. I think my first thought was, “Yay! I get to talk with Rebecca.”

We hug hello, and we’re standing there, talking. She’s telling me about her computer system, and stuff that she’s struggling with. I’m there with her. And then—I’m not. I checked out, in the middle of this conversation, with someone I really like spending time with, who is frustrated (not at me) and who needs to be heard. I was emotionally present with my own stuff, more than I was with her.

I caught it, brought myself back. Thinking, “Oh. Mindfulness. This is what that’s for.”

And I know, that this exactly is what I’m working on. Being present, with my heart. Listening to the people whom I’m with. Being aware of where God is. Staying grounded. And doing what I need to do, when I need to do it.

Later, I put the ERD box together. I was thinking of Rebecca, and I put something inside. It felt right; keeping myself on track, being accountable. Not just sorrow (and I really wasn’t beating myself up with guilt), but genuine repentance. “I see this tendency; I know what to work on, and I am.”

I went to lunch, and on with my day. Everything was fine.

I was sitting with some friends, the admissions director, and a prospective student. (Margaret: it was Suzanne from Good Shepherd.) We're having a perfectly normal conversation, under the circumstances. A friend of one of these friends stops by. They hug, she sits down. And something about this person, makes me want to get to know her.

We get talking. She’s a dancer, and she’s recently had a hip replacement. We both spend more time at Kaiser than we’d like. I tell her, I’m a cancer survivor and I’m still in treatment. And we’re off, talking about the journeys that our bodies and our hearts have been on.

It’s a fascinating conversation; I’m there, and I want to be. We’re talking about what we’ve learned, what we’re working on, listening to ourselves, how to accept help, being safe. The fact that you never know what’s ahead of you.

We’re both tuned in, really enjoying it. And then I hear her say, “…and I’ll let you leave.” I realize how long we’ve been talking. And, how tired I am.

I’ve been needing to read for school. I’d been planning to, all day. And I was so exhausted after that, all I wanted was sleep. So I did a couple of on-campus errands, one that I was a week late on, and took a nap instead. I woke up, groggy, before dinner, and was pretty much toast until I went to bed.

I could say something clever here, about karma. But that was a gentle bite.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what I came into seminary with, and how I’m leaving. I feel right now, like a jellyfish in a river full of salmon. I’m in the wrong body of water, to begin with—I should have taken this year off, but I had to stay for my health insurance. And, I’m watching my friends get job offers, while I myself get congratulated for looking alive.

I know, though, that I’ve been out of step here since my second year, when I went three-quarters time. And I knew that I would be, within my first semester—when I understood that I’d need an extra year to grow into what God was doing with me, and started thinking about internships. I really was always on the four-year plan. I just hadn’t known I’d be surviving cancer, for the last year of it.

I transferred dioceses when I came here, so I’ve always been behind in the process. And I put it on pause when I got diagnosed. I’m doing this at the pace I need to do it. I know that, and I’m okay with it. It’s just hard to watch my friends move faster.

The grace, though, in that early wisdom about needing more time: I found out, four weeks before my entering class graduated, that I’d need an extra year of health insurance. I have had the care I needed.

I came here in fall 2005, fresh from an abusive situation in my former parish. I don’t need to say what that was, or where. And I truly did come here because it was all that my heart wanted to do. I knew that transferring parishes, and going through the process in the usual way, was an option. And I knew that God was saying to me, “Go.”

But I came here with behavior patterns that you’d see in an abuse survivor. I was caught in a debilitating shame cycle, and I hid from people who could have (and would have willingly) helped me. I was afraid of people in power, and of their judgements about me. Even as I started healing from that, trusting myself more, and coming to trust the intentions of the people around me, I preferred to keep my shortcomings to myself. Wherein, I would beat myself up over them.

Then I was diagnosed with cancer. I called my best friend, crying on the phone. I called my priest. The next thing I did was e-mail my teachers. I had projects due Monday; this was Friday afternoon.

They’ve been in my back pocket ever since. I opened up, first because I had to and then because I wanted to. We all walked me through this. The cancer was on my skin; deeper things healed, beneath it.

And now, I’m closing some circles. I met with my advisor the other day. While she was looking for a document in my file, I saw my middler review. My eye rested on the word, “deadlines.”

I turned in a project a month ago, that was nine months late. I’m not going to be punished for it. (My teacher congratulated me for turning it in.) I still have a video to do, from last spring. It will be accepted. When I was well, I was in trouble all the time for late work. I frustrated the hell out of my teachers, because they knew what I was capable of. I honestly didn’t realize, what a big deal that was. My friends were as scattered, behind, and flaky as I. Those who weren’t, intimidated me.

Ever since last April, none of that has mattered. My teachers have been focused on helping me get through this, any way I can. The rules and the expectations are different. I’m living up to them as well as I can. And I want to, both for my own sense of self and because I know these people, as human beings. They’ve been to a dark place, with me.

I have a friend who almost hurts me to be around, because he reminds me so much of the way I was when I was well. He’s getting in trouble in the same areas I did, because he puts off his schoolwork in favor of all the things he loves and would rather do. He’s always running around with his head cut off, and always frustrated with himself. He knows he’s making bad choices, and he keeps making them.

I told him, “I know where you are. And what cured me of that, was cancer. I went where my body and soul took me. I don’t want you to have to go where I’ve been.” But I know, I’ve done that work for me. I can’t do it for him.

People don’t change because they want to. One of my teachers said, in a workshop recently, “No one changes for a hobby.” You do it because you have to. You go to the depths of your darkness, because you have no choice. You walk out, truly alive.

And I’m wondering now, am I really healed? I have faced the hardest thing that I've ever had to go through. I know now, what courage is. I do things all the time, that would have paralyzed me a year ago. I challenge myself just to see if I'm still scared of this or that. I know how to choose to be brave.

I know that I’m a visibly different person; my advisor told me that. I know, that I know what is really important. But can I hold myself to it? Can I consistently do it? Can I stay present, not only with my intention but in the following-through? Can I make commitments I can keep, and find joy in the work of keeping them? Can I get my work done, less because people I respect are counting on me, but because I respect myself, and I’m the kind of person who does it?

Can I be responsible to the changes I’ve been through, both while I’m still here and when I’m out in the world? I can’t imagine forgetting now, how precious life is. But will I remember, who I am and want to be?

I don’t know. But with everything in me, I want to.


Kirkepiscatoid said...

Well, I think you are probably learning earlier than most that the "big ticket items" in life are not a sprint, but a marathon.

"Tincture of time" is an excellent healer. It also reminds us of perspective. Keep on keepin' on, things always happen, just not on our time!

Kirstin said...

Thank you, Maria, but I'm not sure that's helpful. I might be calmer in a year, or five, or ten--but the work is in front of me now, and I need to do it.

I'm not even sure what your last paragraph relates to. Why are you trying to teach me perspective?

I need to be where I am.

Apostle In Exile said...

This post is a better sermon than just about anything anyone can preach this Lent.

Mimi said...

I agree with the Apostle in Exile, excellent post. And, amazing how we learn something we aren't even planning on learning sometimes, isn't it?

and, you know Lent (and in fact the Christian life) is a series of falling down and picking oneself back up. Lord have Mercy.

Grandmère Mimi said...

Mindful listening. That's an excellent Lenten discipline. I might try it with a late start.

My prayers for you continue, my dear.