On Imperfections

As a recovering perfectionist (to borrow phrasing from Brene Brown), I’ve had a long struggle with my own perceived imperfections. That critic in my head is nearly always around to butt in and tell me what I should be feeling lessthanworthy about. I’ve spent a lot of time learning to talk back to her, and a lot of the time now manage to keep her shut up, or at least turned down to a small whisper that I can mostly ignore. The good news is, I’ve really learned to take to heart that You Don’t Have To Be Perfect To Be Loveable. What a concept! There are so many (often conflicting) messages about how we’re supposed to perform to be socially accepted and (yes, even) adored. And boy can that stage be exhausting and lonely.

The way I see it, life likes to present us with new and lovely (sarcasm here) opportunities to practice self-compassion as we learn to accept that which is “imperfect” about ourselves. My most recent grand opportunity has come in the form of chronic pain. Out of the blue, The Day came where I woke up in pain and now, nearly three years and a bajillion doctors visits later, it’s decided to stick around with me for good in the form of Fibromyalgia. As a young, visibly healthy person, who yet is unable to perform as such, I find I regularly fall short of the expectations I’d like to fulfill:

  • No, I’m sorry old friend, I can’t make our vacation plans, because out of the blue I can’t physically sit right now.
  • No, I’m sorry boyfriend, I can’t do the grocery shopping, because the devil invented those huge metal shopping carts.
  • No, I’m sorry classmates, I’m going to stand here awkwardly, because I can’t help move the tables into a circle.
  • No, I’m sorry new friend, I can’t grab a beer with you because driving+barstools= death.
  • No, I’m sorry elderly neighbor lady, I can’t help you carry in your heavy groceries.
  • No, I’m sorry trainer at the gym, I can’t risk doing your “fitness assessment.”
  • No, I’m sorry potential boss, I can’t take a job with regular local travel.

No, no, no, no, I can’t do all these things that a “normal” young person can do. And on harder days, boy does the critic in my head like to have a field day with that! This experience has challenged me to learn new ways of viewing my self-worth as something completely divest from my worldly performance. It has also been challenging to figure out how to let people know my limitations. I know this is an important step in creating a life that is asfullaspossible… but,  how do you breach an uncomfortable and often misunderstood subject with others? Fibro is just one example of this kind of invisible struggle. Other forms of chronic pain, mental illness, learning disabilities, eating disorders, among others, present a unique challenge in their physical invisibility – which only serves to exacerbate misunderstandings based on stigma and rampant misinformation. When is it appropriate to tell someone about your unique self and when do you just make up an easier excuse? How much should you share? Will people just see it as complaining or attention-seeking? And then how do you deal with their reactions? Am I ready to respond to (well-meaning, but ignorant) comments like:

  • “I use a heating pad when my muscles are sore, you should do that.”
  • “You’re young, you should be able to do this better than me!”
  • “Maybe if you just made yourself do more you’d feel better.”
  • “Why are you so tired? I’m a mom, you should have way more energy than me!”

Or then the less well-meaning responses like:

  • “I can’t believe you canceled on me, you ruined my plans.”
  • “But you looked fine yesterday, whatever, I guess you just don’t want to do this.”

The good news is, I’m learning that when you let people in on your so-called imperfect parts, its a pretty good screening tool for weeding out those who are less compassionate, less open, less flexible, less lovingyouforwhoyouare people. It’s also a valuable opportunity to practice self-compassion and connect with your inherent worth as a human being doing the best you can in this brutiful (brutal+beautiful – coined by Glennon Melton @ Momastery) world. Rejection and misunderstanding always sting, but then you find yourself in a circle of bighearted people who are ready and willing to rock out to life with you, one silly imperfect dance at a time.


Love, Alex

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On Sacred Wrestling

Thinking back, I believe I’ve wrestled with religion since I first started to become aware of what it was. I did not grow up with religious practice regularly infused into my life, as others do, so I’ve always approached it as a bit of an outside observer. I learned fairly early on from my hippie parents that religion was something to be respected, but also to be wary of, because it had a way of making people cause great harm while acting in blind faith. Through witnessing so-called religiously driven, tragic events on the news, and immersing myself in political and historical studies in school, I saw this to be true. I felt religion drew hard lines between an “us” and a “them,” that all too often resulted in inhumane action. I also felt, like Marx, that religion could be used by those in power to manipulate others –  an “opiate of the masses,” as it goes. I watched sectarian violence wreck the world, and as a result, at a rather young age (at least younger than I am now) I drew a firm line between me and anything/one that could fall into the “religious” category.

I was filled with a lot of anger. I looked around the earth and saw atrocities happening on a daily basis. I looked to history and saw atrocities happening across the centuries. I looked to the future and felt that if we didn’t get a bunch of people angry, really soon, there would be no end to this cycle. I became intolerant as I began to preach tolerance, angry at anyone and everyone for not feeling as deeply enraged as I was at what we were doing to ourselves and to each other. Not-so-unlike the intolerance I was protesting, I grew more inflexible and started drawing a lot of lines between the “us” I was part of, and the rest of “them” that had it wrong. I was on a passionate humanitarian mission to save the world through righteous anger.

And then one day I came across a quote (that of course for the life of me I can’t find right now) that said (liberally quoted): Angry people can’t lead the world to peace.

Well, crap. My cover was blown. And this dang quote followed me around and popped up in the most annoying moments, mostly when I got ready to launch into an angry rant at someone who had just like, totally offended everything I stood for. (Super tolerant of me, huh?) So this quote kept popping up in my head and my heart, and it made me do some rethinking. I realized some contradictions in what I hoped for in the world (more peace), and how I was going about trying to make it happen (brooding and yelling). I eventually realized that yes, anger can play an important and perhaps crucial role in creating social movements for positive change, but using it as my main vehicle wasn’t going to help bring any peace to me, or anyone else I interacted with, for that matter.

So, what the heck was I supposed to do now??

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about, reading about, wondering about, and writing about love since then. At first glance, it can sound cliche. Love schmove. Even that Marley song “Love is my religion” got old pretty fast. But it turns out (surprise!), even things that have been made cliche can be pretty important, if we challenge ourselves to think beyond the limits of their shallow clicheness. I’m not talking romantic love, though that can be part of it, but about the love we can have for others, even just because they are other human beings struggling to do the best they can in this challenging life. It’s a tough one, this love thing, and I’m still working on figuring it out, but I think it’s a better way to go. Loving the humanity of someone who has done awful things is the biggest challenge. But when I look at some of the incredible Forgiveness Projects that have gone on in the world, like in post-apartheid South Africa or in post-genocide Rwanda, I have to believe it is a possibility we can all strive for.

( Here’s a link to some powerful examples of acts of forgiveness in Rwanda: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2014/04/06/magazine/06-pieter-hugo-rwanda-portraits.html?_r=0 )

This has been my history with sacred wrestling. Now that I’m trying to live love a lot more, it feels more like I’m doing sacred hugging, instead of straining to hold my ground against a powerful opponent. I’ve erased a lot of the lines I drew before (its a life-long process, line-erasing and wall-breaking), and I’ve made some incredible connections with people I love deeply as a result. It’s been an incredible gift in my life, and I hope with the deepest of all that I am that we can all start to recognize the humanness of the “others” in our lives on a greater scale. I truly believe this is important, not just in efforts to help make the world a safer, kinder, more loving place, but also because our feelings of isolation and resulting desperation can so often be driven by self-imposed judgments and rules about the way of the world. We can be so quick to draw lines between us and so-called others. I think it gives us a false feeling of protection and groundedness, but we end up losing out on the deepfuzzy feeling of love and belonging that we get from connecting with others –  And we can easily wind up on a very slippery slope slipsliding down towards destruction when we practice dehumanizing others.

What lines do you draw in your life between yourself and others? What might change for you if you erased them, even a bit? Where can you create some cracks in your walls to start letting in the light?

In other words, who/what are you wrestling with? Could you try hugging it out instead?

Opening ourselves up to changing how we approach the world is scary, but stepping across these lines creates opportunity for connection in new and wonderful ways. I believe this to be true.

Love, Alex

P.S You can always hug it out with me.

 

On the Abject: A Celibate’s Underwear Drawer

One perk of being celibate is no one sees my underwear (except on the rare occasion I end up in a communal fitting room during a dire search for leggings I can use as yoga pants. You read that right: communal fitting room. I love San Francisco.) Thus, I have an underwear drawer full of underwear with unsightly holes and yellowing gussets and an array of other admittedly unsexy features. I have a few pairs I’ve been wearing since I was 8-years-old, and by some act of G-d, they still fit. My rule is, “So long as they remain relatively impervious, they’re keepers.” Holes in the crotch? Throw that shit out. The state of my undergarments is something in which I carry around a deep sense of both pride and shame.

Wearing the same clothes for 10+ years feels so resourceful, so environmentally sound. I think to myself, “Ah, yes, I’m so divested from the material world. Look how infrequently I buy new underwear.” I’m saving money. I’m keeping waste out of landfills. I’m reducing my carbon footprint. I’m probably saving the planet simply by holding onto the same pair of underpants for 16 years.

However, I feel like I’m schlepping around a dirty secret (they’re clean; they just don’t look like it!). So overwhelming is the sense of shame I have over my underwear that while living in an economically developing country, I refused to let our flat’s maids do my laundry for extra income. When my housemate inquired as to why, I provided some answer about needing to do my laundry too frequently. I avoided frantically shouting out, “Because my underwear is old and disgusting, and I don’t want [insert names here] judging me!”

We seem to attach a lot of stigma to a whole host of things associated with our reproductive organs, and I have high hopes Alex and I will get to a few of these. Underwear is just one. No one seems to be concerned with shirts that have been gracing our armpits for ten years or old socks with holes in them (Okay, some people are weird about socks.). Clothing serves at least as much of a social/cultural function as a functional function (Do we really need to wear clothes all the time?), and underwear is no exception. If anything, underwear could have the functional lean because of its critical role in enabling us to keep re-wearing our pants without washing them all the time. And for some, the functional role of underwear is really all they’re invested in. But for others, underwear carries the weight of social packaging, evoking feelings of femininity, masculinity, sexual empowerment, etc. As one invested even slightly in that social packaging, emotionally disconnecting from the state of one’s underwear can be a challenge. And my underwear shame is, perhaps, exacerbated by the fact that I’m not forced to confront the okayness of wearing worn out underwear by doing it confidently in front of others. My underwear remains in the closet. (Time to consider a pool membership and then to confront my “unwaxed-bikini-line shame.”)

To conclude, I have underwear shame, and I hope that if you, like me, have underwear shame, you now have a little less. And if your underwear is well worn and you rock the hell out of it unabashedly, props to you, friend; keep doing your thing.

-Ellen

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One of the perks of hanging out with Ellen is that I always learn something. She is knowledgeable on a multitude of subjects and despite knowing her since we were ten, I really don’t quite know how she’s done this. I do know that she is driven by an unquenchable thirst to better understand the world around her, and that she enjoys surfing Wikipedia.

So, if you’re like me, you also had to look up the definition of “abject.” During my time period as a self-righteous humanitarian (see post – On Sacred Wrestling) I did hear the phrase “abject poverty” fairly regularly, but I couldn’t quite figure out the connection between starving children and Ellen’s underwear drawer. So I took a page out of my good friend’s handbook and Wikipedia’d that shit. Here’s what I came up with:

“The term abjection literally means “the state of being cast off”. In usage it has connotations of degradation, baseness and meanness of spirit; but has been explored in post-structuralism as that which inherently disturbs conventional identity and cultural concepts.[1]…. Julia Kristeva developed the idea of the abject as that which is rejected by/disturbs social reason – the communal consensus that underpins a social order.[4]

At least, these were the bits that made sense to me. Any theoretical paradigms with the prefix Post- have always been a little (okay, a lot) difficult for me to grasp. Though I think that might be the point. But that’s beside this point.

It occurs to me that in a way, embracing the so-called abject is the purpose of this blog. If you look at the categories on the right, there’s a nice little list of many areas in which we often find ourselves feeling rather abject (did I even use that right?) – body image, mental health, sex and intimacy — and we’ve already started talking about shame and vulnerability. If you feel your stomach starting to turn a little and sort of feel like running away just reading all those words, don’t worry, you are not alone. But that’s the whole point. YOU ARE NOT ALONE! What a joyous thing. We’re all a little abject! (I don’t think I’m using that right). There are parts of all of us that “are rejected by/disturbs social reason!” Hurray!

Social norms and cultural expectations do play an important role in society, and in many instances are critical to its successful functioning. Because we can reasonably expect people to act a certain way, we can relatively safely and comfortably navigate our day-to-day world and relations with other people. But, as Ellen’s underwear has shown us, there are some holes in this argument. (hehe, get it?) It’s important to consider why we have a social norm, what function it serves, and how our identity is mixed up with it. When a social expectation is challenged, why do we freak out about it? Does holey underwear threaten the survival of our society? Why do we put so much stock into conforming to certain expectations? Where did those ideas come from? Are they helpful? Is it really something worth being offended about?

Just some thoughts.

Love,  Alex

TeaDrinkers’ CommuniTea Ethics

Dear Fellow TeaDrinkers,

When joining together around the TPot, we are entering a BraveSpace with a community of folks who are taking a moment to enjoy each other’s company. There is no need for formal participation, we are happy to have you here in whatever way is most meaningful and comfortable for you. However, If you do decide to join the conversation, we ask that you respect these guidelines:

  • There are lots of ways to love tea. Milk/No-milk, herbal/caff, smallcup/bigcup, hot/cold, etc. All community members have the right to drink tea, and otherwise chose how to live their lives, in whatever way best fits their lifestyle and values (as long as this does not cause harm to others). While at the TPot,  name-calling, belittling, or other forms of shaming will not be tolerated. 
  • Sometimes difficult topics come up when sitting with a friend over tea. This is OK, even good. Please take the time to reflect on your boundaries and decide what you are comfortable sharing. We ask that you not use anyone’s last name, address, or other personal identifying information in the information you share. This is not only for safety purposes, but also because it can distract from connection by creating false feelings of separation – and often descends into gossip.
  • When sharing a pot of tea, we are offered a precious moment to take a breath and connect with those in front of us. The intention here is to reflect and connect. If you find the intention of your comment is to confront and correct, take a step back before you hit enter. It’s likely you are being challenged to see a topic in a new and important way. Always assume the best intention in others and only speak on behalf of your own experiences. We are not the experts in others’ lives or for how others should live.

We are humans, and as humans we make mistakes. Sometimes we approach the pot of tea with great hopes only to have our mouths surprisingly burnt to heck. When this happens to me, I can get pretty cranky. If this happens to you and you make a less-than-thoughtful comment in reaction to feeling burnt, we invite you to reflect on the experience, and encourage you to acknowledge the hurt and seek resolution with your fellow TeaDrinkers. Likewise, if you find yourself offended by a comment, we invite you to reflect, assume your fellow TeaDrinker’s best intentions, and encourage you to follow-up for resolution. Often, asking clarification questions like – I’m not sure what you mean, or I found myself feeling hurt by this comment, can you explain x a little more? – can go a long way in helping to create resolution.

If however, you regularly ignore our community rules and your comments are causing harm, we will unfortunately un-invite you from future TeaParties. TeaDrinkers can report rude, harassing, or otherwise inappropriate commenters to us so that we can take the appropriate actions. 

We’re looking forward to TeaTime with you. 🙂

Love, Alex and Ellen