It’s just after four am here in Phoenix. I’ve been up for two hours. Unsuccessful were my attempts to sink back into the great away ~ so awake I stay. It’s so quiet before the dawn. My ears hold little ~ the sound of my breath, the hum of the refrigerator, the pool pump. The tapping of digits on keys. Before the reality diagnosing part of my mind gets wind of this premature awakeness and starts terrorizing me with why this isn’t a good idea and how my day is now ruined and quick! check out the Chinese medicine clock to see which meridian is speaking… I’m simply going to sit here and write.
It’s taken me a year to digest and to write about an experience that left me feeling so many ways at once that I couldn’t begin to tease out clarity.
Last year I hosted a silent hike with mindfulness and writing practice. There were about 15 people in attendance as we walked through the Sonoran desert on a brilliant and cool fall afternoon. Above we were topped by a sapphire skyscape that wore dollops of clouds dropping shadows on giant hunks of earth gut below. Feet crushing rocks and twigs and respirations blended with the chime of a tiny bell that woke us up every so often.
We returned after an hour steeped in a deep collective silence to the concrete benches and tables at the trailhead. After our bodies settled into the new space I laid out the rules of writing practice as taught to me by my teacher Natalie Goldberg:
- Keep your hand moving.
- Don’t be polite.
- Don’t worry about punctuation, spelling or grammar.
- Don’t cross out. Don’t erase.
- Go for the jugular
And we wrote.
And we wrote.
At the end of our writing practice I asked the participants to find a partner and to share with each other what they had written. This is what Natalie calls closing the gap. There is a gap between what we think we wrote and what we actually wrote. There is a gap between who we think we are and who we actually are. I remember the horror I felt the first time Natalie gave the instruction to read our writing to each other. I had no idea what I had written. Still I was certain it sucked wind and now she was asking me to reveal my wind sucking words to complete strangers! I was sure these particular strangers were really good writers who effortlessly slung good grammar and held very sophisticated thoughts that they easily translated into writing, oh and also they had perfect credit scores and they came from nice families too. But because I’m wired to move towards what scares me, I went for it and what was revealed to me was a self I didn’t know existed, even though she has always been right here. To say I was liberated is accurate. To say my writing was good or bad or right or wrong is irrelevant.
I always tell people that they can pass on the sharing if they like, though I also caution against it, because I know the gift that is given to all of us when even one of us wakes up to our Self if even for a moment.
I don’t always read my writing when I teach, but because we were uneven without me, I turned to the man who was sitting across from me and asked him to read. What he shared made my breath catch in my stomach and I had to pull my life-force back into the rest of my body to steady my mind as he shared his mind’s very graphic account of a sexual interlude with…guess who? That’s right, me. He seemed to be experienced with writing erotica. I listened to the whole thing without comment~as is the way, and at the end, he said, “Sorry. I didn’t know I was going to be reading to you.” I held his eyes with mine and told him it was okay, he had followed the instructions. I meant it. I made no comment, I showed no fear. I read to him what I wrote, then he read another piece ~ not X rated, and so on.
I can’t tell you exactly how I felt at the time, but I can tell you it wasn’t peaceful. I can tell you that my thoughts were twisting in so many directions that I couldn’t land on just one way to feel, because I couldn’t land on one way to think. I was divided inside and I wasn’t okay with it as evidenced by my lack of peace around the situation.
I told myself: The man was practicing the form. He did what was asked of him. He shared his mind as it was showing up in the moment and it was my job to hold space for his expression. His writing was about him, not me. I didn’t have to carry the projection of female sex object. Also…I felt bad. Should I be afraid for my safety? Did he plan on acting on his fantasy? Is it dangerous to put myself out in the world in this way? Had I done something to give him the impression that I was available for …?
I landed on no big deal. I wouldn’t say I was at peace with it, but I felt like it had to go into a specific slot. Okay or not okay. I settled on okay, and after a few weeks, I put this little episode out of my mind, or so I thought.
As I step back into the realm of teaching after a long break, I’ve been revisiting this situation as others with a similar quality of ickiness have come into my world. I have been forced to reconsider the idea of no big deal that I had (not fully consciously) collapsed around.
It seems I have been born into a much larger version of myself that is finally brave enough to hold the truth.
And it is a paradox.
Truth is always paradoxical to the mind.
The truth is:
The man did nothing wrong. He followed instructions. It had nothing to do with me. His mind is none of my business. It’s just writing practice. I’m not angry that he wrote those things about me, because they weren’t about ME, they were about his IDEA of me.
He could have passed. I’m angry that he thought it was okay to read his sex scene about me to me. I wasn’t his girlfriend or his wife or even mildly interested. His not passing was disrespectful. I respected him by allowing him to read. I did not respect myself by allowing him to linger in my space long after he wasn’t really welcome.
He is no longer welcome in my space. I’m allowed to feel all of how I feel and I’m also allowed to change my mind at any moment based on my understanding of how truth is being revealed to me. I don’t know what is to be revealed in the next moment, but my intention is to stay open and not collapse on any one perspective like it’s the one truth forever and ever, amen. That would, I believe, color me many shades of dead.
I now know that I unconsciously invited this man and others like him into my world because I wasn’t clear about my boundaries. I wasn’t clear with myself about my boundaries as a teacher and as a woman.
I hadn’t closed the gap between who I think I’m supposed to be and who I actually am.
Who I am is so much larger than any measly idea my mind or any other mind could ever hold.
Same goes for that dude.
Same goes for you.