Compassion after the Discomfort

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“People often ask me, “How do we know whether to refrain from something or go toward it?” My answer is, just practice what comes naturally at the time. If the first commitment, refraining, seems like it would be the most helpful, do that. But if you feel that you can keep your heart and mind open a little longer to someone who’s irritating you or triggering your impatience, then follow your instinct and do that. Then maybe, based on having been able to stay open a little longer in that situation, you’ll begin to get a sense of what it would mean to not turn away at all.”
(Pema Chodron, Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change)

There is always an after. Even when facing an ending, there is always an after…especially when that ending does not result in turning away. But that after is never the same from one end to another. So, no matter how many afters one experiences, the only thing that can be assured is that “this too will pass.”

But what do you do in that space between the end and the passing of the “this?”

Be.

With Compassion.

For self.

Usually the after indicates some kind of previous struggle…and often, for quite a while. A lengthy struggle can result in many things…depletion, depression, exhaustion, sorrow, grief, resentment, fury, vulnerability, fear, relief, expansion, and many, many more.

These emotions swirled through me after I made my decision to leave. And, they didn’t stop. It’s been three weeks since that decision, and there are still waves that catch me in unsuspecting moments.

Those first few days after the decision were the hardest…trying to wrap up projects, writing up documentation, visiting all my rituals for the last time, still working and keeping a cheerful face even the presence of those who wished me ill. But the most difficult was the goodbyes. I would swing from holding an energetic protective stance with my co-workers to a gut-wrenching sorrow as a student’s eyes welled up with tears.

After a couple days, and many nights of asking for help from the Higher Realms, I re-learned something beautiful…it can all co-exist. I don’t have to swing from one emotion to the other, exhausting myself in the perpetual pendulum. Instead, I can just hold space for me to simply BE in the wash of it all…all at once…all at the same time…immersed…present.

In that understanding, a huge energy of compassion engulfed me, and I opened to receive it…the teary, frustrated, angry, hurt, sad, tender, vulnerable didn’t go away. Instead, I recognized the potentials this force carried if I harnessed it. So, I just rode the wave. And in riding the wave, I allowed myself to fully experience all that the emotion had to offer me. By not resisting it, it carried me forward and up to a higher frequency…and a tiny piece of that emotion fell away…completed.

Breathe.

Hold Compassion.

Ride.

Repeat.

 

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Being in the Discomfort

The primary essence of the Sacred Feminine is being-ness.

Not in a passive way. In a state of heightened awareness…actively noticing everything in and around yourself…only taking responsibility for yourself and holding space and compassion for others.

That sounds easy.

It’s not.

It’s exhausting.

I’ve been told it gets easier.

I’ll let you know.

I had an excellent opportunity to put this being-ness into practice in light of what I had read from Pema Chodron‘s book, “The Wisdom of No Escape and the Path of Loving-Kindness.”

There’s a common misunderstanding among all the human begins who have ever been born on the earth that the best way to live is to try to avoid pain and just try to get comfortable…A much more interesting, kind, adventurous, and joyful approach to life is to begin to develop our curiosity, not caring whether the object of our inquisitiveness is bitter or sweet. To lead a life that goes beyond pettiness and prejudice and always wanting to make sure that everything turns out on our own terms, to lead a more passionate, full, and delightful life than that, we must realize that we can endure a lot of pain and pleasure for the sake of finding out who we are and what this world is, how we tick and how our world ticks, how the whole thing just is. If we’re committed to comfort at any cost, as soon as we come up against the least edge of pain, we’re going to run; we’ll never know what’s beyond that particular barrier or wall or fearful thing.

“You have to be kind,” he told me. “We just can’t have this kind of tension.”

I’m sitting in a meeting with administration and human resources. There have been at least a dozen of these meetings so far, and things are getting worse at work…not better.

I look at this man and watch him squirm.

“That last meeting was just so uncomfortable. It was so difficult to watch and to be in the room.”

“Why?” I ask.

“Because you were so upset and it was just so obvious. And your boss was trying to connect with you but you kept dismissing her.”

“Because she was lying,” I reply. “You were uncomfortable with the fact that I wasn’t willing to go along with her lies?”

He squirms. “It just isn’t kind,” he says.

“And allowing a lie to continue is?” I ask.

He squirms again. “It’s just so uncomfortable. We just can’t have that.”

The above passage flashes through my mind and in that moment, I feel compassion for this man. Oh! You poor man. You really aren’t used to facing difficulties in your life. You really want to avoid pain at any cost. This must be so difficult for you.

“I don’t think you realize,” I begin slowly, “that the level of discomfort that you felt in that meeting is nothing compared to the level of discomfort I’ve been carrying around inside as a result of my boss’s lack of integrity. I am no longer willing to silently carry it all just so that you and everyone else can feel comfortable. The discomfort is there. Ignoring it or running away from it accomplishes nothing.”

He shifts in his chair and looks out the window. He sighs a big sigh.

I do too.

“I know,” I continue. “It’s hard. It’s unpleasant. I know. I’ve been carrying this around inside of me for two years. And I know kindness is important to you, but what about kindness towards me? I’m not being kind to myself by allowing this to continue to hurt me just because it might not be kind to tell the truth to another person.”

“This last meeting was just so different,” he finally says. “It was just so obvious that you were upset, and it just created so much tension in the room. We just can’t have that here.”

“The meeting was only different because I spoke my truth. I didn’t create the tension…I simply exposed it. Your words indicate that you want me to keep silent and ignore my upset. That ignoring problems is being kind and the only way to do business. Is that true?”

I squirms. “I don’t know,” he whispers. “It’s just so uncomfortable.”

He’s right. It is. I haven’t enjoyed a single one of these meetings. My heart has pounded as I walk to the meeting, requiring me to do a walking meditation and request people in my social circle to hold space for me at the appointed meeting time. Watching my mouth speak words that I’ve felt and thought for so long has been gut-wrenching…and freeing. I hadn’t realized how much of my energy has been tied up in keeping quiet…in keeping all of these things repressed…stomped down…ignored…controlled…all in the name of kindness and getting along with people.

The clarity has come. I know what I have to do.

“I don’t want to work for my boss any longer,” I say quietly.

A pained look crosses his face. I look at the other face and see the same thing reflected there. I feel compassion again for everyone’s discomfort with the discomfort. And then, a funny thing happens…I feel freedom…and peace…and a realignment with my soul. It’s definitely been an uncomfortable process. Yet, I’ve learned a lot…about the institution…about my boss…about the administration…about myself.

Most importantly, I know I am now back in integrity with myself.

And I know in that moment, that’s all that matters.

Being

 

Someone recently asked me, “When you say that femininity is about being, it really bothers me. What do you mean by that, because it feels like you’re saying femininity is passive…and that is definitely not me.”

I get this. I don’t think passivity is ever a quality that is helpful, as it leads to stagnation, disconnection from self, and lying to others. It’s been a trait I have seen in many women as I have grown up and it infuriated me when my father tried to deny my powerful nature in order to get me to only be sweet and gentle, and ultimately, passive. To be fair, my father, and many other men like him, buy into the traditional religious stance that supports this idea…that a virtuous woman is not a powerful woman who roars or is passionate or defies social order or structure. A virtuous woman is one who acquiesces in order to maintain peace no matter what.

But, in experiencing the Sacred Feminine, I have found Her to be anything but passive. As a result, the first thing I must do is to unlink the word “passive” from the word “being.” Being has an active state too…it just looks a little bit different than what I’ve been taught through religion. As I explore the Sacred Feminine, I realize just how masculine Western Culture is…how it permeates everything to the point where feminine is not only distasteful, it has become almost eliminated altogether. This isn’t balance either. But how do we learn how to be feminine or choose with awareness a feminine trait if we don’t even know what femininity is?

Ironically, there do exist some religious environs where the concept of masculine and feminine are clearly embodied. As much as I feel constrained and restricted in the Orthodox Jewish communities, they do have a very clear concept of what a woman’s role is and what a man’s role is. While I still find those definitions confining as gender roles, they’re not so offensive to me when the principles are applied in terms of feminine and masculine traits/behaviors.

As I move through my daily life, I realize that I flip back and forth between feminine and masculine tasks, thoughts, and behaviors…and perhaps that is what can make this whole idea so confusing…I am not purely or exclusively feminine or masculine. I am both. And, as I become more consciously aware of the different ways I am masculine or feminine, I find that I am melding myself into wholeness…honoring both sides of myself…leading me to a deep self-love.

So for my friend who’s concerned with the passivity of being, here’s what I’m discovering:

Feminine Masculine
BE DO
potential energy kinetic energy
receiving energy sending energy
expansiveness holding space with boundaries
inward work outward work
heart centered head centered
creator protector
flow/surrender fight/resistance

                                  

The easiest ways to illustrate these differences are through the very essences of male vs. female…reproduction and sex. As women, we have more obvious cycles and rhythms than men due to our menstruation cycles. And, I’m learning that by honoring these cycles, I am honoring both masculine and feminine…I’m also connecting to a deep and ancient wisdom that is often lost when the cycles are ignored by powering through with the aid of drugs. This single practice of honoring my rhythm and flow of my body has required me to slow down…to pay attention to my heart, and to create a different life for myself…one in which I can honor these same rhythms without putting my income at risk.

During a normal menstruation cycle, a woman experiences three weeks of building and one week of flow. Those three weeks of building are feminine…the cultivation of and preservation of life-blood. This flowing inward is feminine…as is the action a woman experiences in orgasm…the contractions that propel inwards. We don’t necessarily DO anything except allow ourselves to BE who we are…women. We don’t consciously tell our bodies what to do…it just does it and we just are…in the flow of being feminine, in the cycle.

But that fourth week, the bleeding portion of our menstrual cycles, is masculine…the flowing outward…the sending energy, as in the action a man experiences in orgasm…contractions that propel outwards. A woman’s hormones change to a more masculine concoction. The skin tone is less feminine; her voice is lower. And yet, she’s still woman…allowing the natural flow of life to cycle through while still being…flushing to make room for something new.

Similarly, the process of procreation holds both masculine and feminine elements. A woman receiving the sperm is feminine in two ways…she’s created as a woman to have room to receive, and the act of receiving is also feminine. The man in providing the sperm is also masculine in two ways…he’s created as a man to send sperm, and the act of sending is also masculine. The cultivation and creation of new life is feminine, and in this heightened state of femininity, the flowing out of blood stops. For 40 weeks, a woman is purely woman in her body…fully aware of life throbbing all around her. Her instincts become much more focused on the home and creating a home for the new life.

Interestingly enough, men also feel more masculine throughout this process. Most men feel particularly protective a pregnant women…there is an instinct to protect the vulnerable without diminishing those who are vulnerable. This vulnerability is honored as something beautiful rather than something to be ashamed of or to hide from. Men often feel inspired to increase their ability to provide for their families and will seek promotions or raises, a bigger home, a different car, and will often be seen running errands for the mother of their unborn child…he’s going outward, and she’s staying put and receiving.

Then comes the birth. A man often feels helpless in these situations and they often experience an incredible amount of angst that they can’t do anything. What they don’t realize is that they can do something…they can hold space and witness the process. This is masculine energy. But a woman may not only need masculine energy in this process…she may also need feminine energy because the birthing of a baby is masculine…sending a fully formed creation outward. A man can also hold a feminine energy of being while holding space. He can tap into the nurturing feminine space within himself in order to allow the woman to fully express all the masculinity she needs to express in order to send out this child from within. Ironically, it is also in the height of birthing that a woman confronts the essence of herself as being. As labor progresses, she becomes increasingly aware and consumed by everything that is taking place. And as she realizes that she cannot change this process, she surrenders to it, and then participates with it.

These are extreme examples, my friend would say…and she’s right. Aside from these huge moments in life that not everyone will experience, how can a powerful and passionate woman express femininity in daily life?

I’ve started by learning what nurtures me, creating space to receive it, receiving it when given, then expressing gratitude. For example, when a man holds a door open for me, I receive it and express gratitude. He is embodying masculinity by holding space for me and honoring me as I flow through the space he has created.

When a man offers to carry my groceries to my car, I accept, again with gratitude. His offer is a sending energy, which is masculine, which also identifies the feminine capacity in me to receive his offer. The simple act of accepting is receiving, which is feminine, also honoring his gift that he sent to me.

Receiving compliments is a particular challenge for me. I’ve always felt compelled to return the compliment or even deny the truth of the compliment altogether. However, when practicing femininity, I choose to receive them with gratitude because they are a gift to me and in doing so, I’m embodying feminine energy. This action of being a receptacle creates a place to receive additional compliments, which then another masculine energy can recognize and will seek to fill. This is why the more you have, the more you receive…or, when it rains, it pours…or any of the other adages or practices prove true so frequently.

By practicing feminine behaviors and experiencing the resulting powerful experience of being, I increasingly connect with the essence of me by going within. As I do this, I become more confident in who I am and less afraid of expressing myself in the world. By being me and being true to my soul’s essence, I am learning that I exhibit the activity of the Sacred Feminine…the activity within me…contained within…nurturing within…reflecting out.

Sculpture by Chris Navarro. Book titles: The Power of Belief.

 

The Honesty of Discomfort

At the suggestion of a friend, I’ve begun reading “The Wisdom of No Escape and the Path of Loving-Kindness” by Pema Chodron. From the very first page, my world was rocked:

During the dathun (as always at the abbey), the participants kept the five monastic vows: not to lie, not to steal, not to engage in sexual activity, not to take life, and not to use alcohol or drugs.

Ok. I roll my eyes. Blah, blah, blah.

The resulting collaboration of nature, solitude, meditation, and vows made an alternatingly painful and delightful “no exit” situation. With nowhere to hide…

Woah! I put down the book. Nowhere to hide?! And it’s “delightful?”

I squirm.

Why am I so uncomfortable with this thought? What do I have to hide?

You couldn’t lie.

I squirm.

Are you kidding me? One of the character traits I prize most is my honesty and integrity…to the point of brutality, I’ve been told. I would always rather someone told me the truth, even if it’s hard and painful to hear because that’s the only way I know someone is trustworthy and worth having in my life. I look down on people who struggle with honesty and judge them for being less trustworthy than I…less honorable than I…less than I.

So…why am I squirming? Particularly over something that I know I do not do?

Except, that you DO. 

What?! When?!

At work. 

Seriously? How?

By not speaking up when you know someone’s lack of integrity upsets you.

But it’s my boss! How do I tell my boss that she’s lacking integrity without losing my job?! I have to pretend I don’t notice it if I want to keep my job!

Why do you want this job if you have to lie to keep it?

I’m stumped. I have absolutely no good reason. From the outside, I have the perfect life. I live in an ideal and quiet beach town in Southern California. I have my dream job and have fabulous benefits. My office has a stunning view, and I have yet to drive to work without expressing gratitude at the scenery. I have access to all kinds of circles and events and have made excellent connections. But, over the past two years, I have become increasingly miserable despite all of the magnificence of my life…of my dreams coming true. Why?!

Because of the lying.

You’re asking me to tell the truth even though I know it will mean I will lose my job.

I’m not asking you to do this…YOU’RE asking you to do this. You’re miserable. How long will you continue to ignore your heart? 

But how come no one else is bothered by this?

Lots of reasons. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that it bothers you and you’re pretending that it doesn’t. And for what?

I then notice my body…full of aches, lethargic, anxious, teeth deteriorating, canker sores, digestive issues, food cravings. How did this happen? Why didn’t I notice before?

Lying. You have been lying to yourself. And, your body is reaping the rewards of that. The lack of integrity within you is being reflected in your body and your outer world.

Crap.

Now what.

Tell the truth. 

No matter what?!

No matter what. 

To sit in a room and tell the truth about my boss to her face and to administration? I’ll have to defend myself. I’ll have to provide examples. Can I do that? I realize that I can indeed…I realize that I have lots of examples. I realize I’m angry. I realize I’m frustrated. I realize just how miserable I am each day.

I squirm again.

To sit in that room and tell the truth and not back down? To tell the truth to people I know personally as well as professionally? To tell the truth and face ridicule? To tell the truth and experience even more harassment from my boss? To tell the truth and risk everything?

Do you really have any other options at this point?

I squirm. Again.

No. I don’t.

I squirm…and send an email to administration requesting a meeting.

It’s time to tell the truth.