Stained Through

Since I’ve been back from assisting my friend Corbett with her book launch (Fading Scars) I have been trying to catch my breath, trying to catch my heart.

Coming home, a family member was in the hospital and my family was in crisis. Then the massacre in Charleston happened. The anniversary of Olmstead came and went and Goodwill still is paying Disabled people 22 cents an hour for work. None of these things are in competition with each other, they each land squarely on my heart.

I’ve read so much this week. Articles, blogs, poetry. All these words, I keep hunting for comfort, for the vessel where when I peer inside, I can see my rage and pain reflected back in perfect symmetry. Instead, I find myself distracted by memories of the morning when the mass-shooting happened here in Tucson. When my family told me that they were planning that morning to go to the store where the shooting happened.  The energy that permeated the city. A desperate desire to connect, fear, anger. The hungry silence that nothing seemed to fill.  

All this just leaves me with questions. Questions’ demanding not answers, but truth. I turn to words and devour them in hope that they may satiate the question’s hungry mouths. Until nothing satisfies. “No more words.” I tell myself.

I take a break from words and turn to painting. I paint to re-find the center of myself. When words aren’t enough and understanding must come through touch, breath and a “doing” expression of pain. Painting for me is useful, beautiful, something that feeds the body and the heart.

Glass jar holds an upside-down paint brush, bristles stained blueA family member calls and we discuss my plans to be at their house to support the recovery of the loved one. Crisis doesn’t end, it just transforms into the everyday attending. One more thing to add to plate. One more way to express the deepest of loves. One more color to add to the palate.

Washing my brushes, I notice how it doesn’t matter how long I soak the bristles or how much I scrub, the color stain remains.

I struggle with the exposure to the pain of the whole of my world. Collective media-sharing, the raw truth in an instant. My individual reality, only being held in a moment, in a breath. I sat in the hospital last week listening to the beeps of machines. Pausing for breaks scrolling through the posts and updates brought to me by another machine. We rely on these machines for life, for news, for connection. And yet, all I, my body, has is the moment. The moment the loved one opened their eyes and smiled. The moments of conversations to and from the hospital around the terror happening a country-length away. 

All I have is the way my spirit is stained with these moments of truth. The color stays even as I let the emotion flow through. This color is with me wherever I go.

Putting the brushes away, I turn to write, following through on the rituals I have created for myself. Coffee. The burning and blessings of Copal. I am spending years writing about all the layers of self-care and this week I am desperately trying to embody what I have learned. I think about earlier, standing at the sink, patiently washing off the built up color on my brush, like the experience of painting itself, energetic flow to the emotion I hold. Allowing emotion and pain to move through me is not a forgetting, it is a strengthening. My heart is stained with what I have witnessed, felt and learned, but clearer and ready.      

Knowing When To Say "Yes"

This was extremely helpful, thank you! I am wondering, though, if you have specific ways to practice checking in with yourself? I find that in the balance of finding what I need and what my community needs, I'm more apt to sway to the community needs. That's the more pervasive response, and I have a stronger (positive) emotional reaction to it immediately. - Erin Blanding

Thanks Erin for such a great comment/question.

Fluffy seeds dangling from skinny bush limbs with small rounded leaves
I was out in the desert last week and saw that the Creosote bush was in bloom. I was thinking about how each seed is like a tiny piece of faith the bush commits to, with no idea of how each seed will be released, or even if it will grow. Committing to ourselves to try and meet our own needs is also a complete act of faith. There is no feedback from outside of ourselves. All we can do is wait to see what grows.   

We can create tools to figure out how to make wiser decisions about our own needs when committing to requests. Checking in with ourselves while we are deciding where to put our energy can be difficult. Responding to community needs can have such a high pay-off because our community recognizes us for what we do (but maybe not who we are). We crave that recognition because it’s something we can measure, an act that we can point to as being done. The results are tangible.

Responding to our own needs is much harder. We have to expend energy up front to figure out what our needs are and then there is the effort of trying to meet those needs. The only ones to say, “Hey, good job!” is us. Self-care in a lot of ways is about confronting our loneliness, making peace with our desire for a witness to affirm how much work it is to take care of ourselves. For me, this gets wrapped up in a desire for approval. Part of the process is to teach myself that my needs are valid.

When I first started challenging myself to consider my own needs, the easiest thing I could do was to pay attention to my feelings. When someone requested something from me, I tried to pause and check in with my first reaction. For example, if I felt both interested but also irritated, I’d try to honor that there is a reason for feeling irritated, even if I didn’t know what it was. I’d ask the individual if I could get back to them and I’d spend a bit of time figuring out why I felt irritated. That feeling would lead me to a need. Sometimes this need meant I turned down the request, but other times this need could be met in another way.

For example, I was recently asked to be part of a panel speaking on Disability activism. I felt both excited and overwhelmed. I took some time to figure out why I felt overwhelmed and when I listed out all of the life-stuff going on it made sense. Yet, doing the event felt right too. I realized that it was possible to be on the panel, but not necessarily have to be the moderator or super involved in the organizing of it. I could just show up, share, and have some fun.    

Figuring out even how we feel in the moment can be difficult. One of the people[1] I interviewed said that they taped the word, “No” on their phone. They did this to remind them to say, “No” to requests so they didn’t over-commit.  If they felt later like they really did want to do something, they would call back and say that they changed their mind. This was the place they had to start in order to even figure out how they felt about a request.   
Some of us can be really skilled and efficient at getting things done. People acknowledge that by asking for our help. I love feeling needed, and yet, I can only do so much before getting overwhelmed and things fall apart. When I say, “No,” this creates an opportunity for someone else to try. Things may look different or even fail, but that is our journey, our opportunity to learn.

Self-care is really about learning to become accountable to ourselves. It is an acknowledgement of our strengths and our limits. We can care deeply about our communities that we are connected to, but this caring is only truly authentic when it comes from a place where we can be whole-hearted (present, content to be there, etc.) in our efforts. If we show up, but angry about being there, that comes through, and if we show up and are present with what is happening, that comes through too.

Some questions to reflect on are:

·         Where do you feel feelings in your body? In your stomach, in your chest?
·         If feelings aren’t accessible, is there some way you know when something is right or wrong for you? Perhaps a sensation of exhaustion or you might notice that you automatically smile when someone suggests something. Maybe a song pops in your head that helps clue you in.
·         How do you figure out what you need? Do you journal about it, sleep on it, exercise and let it come? If you were to imagine yourself telling this to a friend, what would you say?
·         When you do begin to notice information, a feeling or sensation, reflect on when you’ve felt this way before. What happened? What did you notice?

[1] This person requested to remain anonymous.