We're All Just Telling Stories
Hi. I dislike sportsing. Not sports - I'm a great spectator - just my actual involvement in sports. I want to be the kind of person who goes to crossfit and has enormous, rippling thigh muscles or dangles gracefully from a trapeze or the power lifter who out flexes teenage boys in the high school gym. I want to be these things.
I am not these things.
Things I am.
I've recently joined a group that meets once a month and explores being a woman in the modern world through Hindu goddess myths. We sit in a circle with our teacher at our head, though she wouldn't describe herself that way, and we sing and chant in a language we don't understand. This seems ridiculous to people I tell. Or, they seem dismissive of this act, condescending in the way people used to be about Chinese character tattoos that could also mean "donkey's vagina."
But I taught multi-level non-native English speakers for a few years.
I know how little we need our actual words to convey meaning, how much is given in light and sound and gesture.
There should be groups like this in every town. Little gatherings of women who sit on pillows on the floor, drink tea and eat almonds, and tell each other what it's like to walk around in their skin. One woman, an engineer, addressed my preconceived notions politely, but in the moment of our conversation, I think we both knew I had brought my stereotypes about women in engineering. Who gets such an easy opportunity to quickly self-correct? I shut up and listened and found out what it was like to be specifically this woman and in this specific space as an engineer.
I believe wholeheartedly in the power of story. How could I not? My entire life has been woven from the fabric of stories, my cells braided together with bits of hair and twigs and vines I've picked up along the way, all collecting into the long narrative that is life.
When we are near someone in pain, story is the greatest gift we can offer. Not advice - my go to - not a competition of sorrows, not a dismissal of whatever their pain might be. Recovery taught me this. My friends taught me this. Books taught me this. When someone is in pain, we sit quietly and listen. We say we're sorry they're experiencing pain. And if it's a familiar kind of pain, we offer up our own. A delicate flower held in our palms. It helps me to witness another's pain as beauty.
In story, we can cast ourselves as victims, nihilists, cynics, always on the sidelines with a critique. Or, we can choose the lead role, the heroic, or maybe even the quiet kindness that slowly progresses us forward to a better place. Introvert me, this quiet kindness is my favorite.
This total devotion to story, I think, atrophied my physical development. So, since at least 2nd grade, if you throw a ball my direction, my body freezes up and the ball will usually knock my teeth out.
But it gave me other gifts, including this circle of women who meet once a month. We've started a private Facebook group in which we share how restless meditation makes us or what our relationships to paternal presence has been.
Ew - The Feels
We're having a cultural moment now in love with its own apathy, enamored with the analytical. We wink at stuffing down our emotions, our kids mocking any moment they're having "all the feels."
I spent most of my life not feeling. I accomplished this in creatively destructive ways, including drugs and alcohol, sex, obsessive fixing, and a pissy, cynical attitude that, I'm sure, irritated anyone who had to interact with me. Not feeling got me heaps of trouble. But feeling did not.
Since I got sober, woke up the fuck up, and started treating myself with the tenderness and care I would anyone I love, feeling showed up, guns blazing. I'm feeling all the damn time, half of which I can't identify.
WTF is this? Oh, I'm happy?
Early in a meeting, I heard a man say he called his sponsor 15 times a day to say, "Okay, I'm a little shaky, sort of stomach sick. What is this? I'm anxious? Maybe worried? Okay." Oh yes, friend. I get that.
This is where the myths come in. This month we focused on Parvati, Shiva's beloved, mother of Ganesh. In these ancient myths, we recognize our own longing and fear, our desire thwarted and shot out sideways like a bomb that goes off and kills your allies. In these spaces and among our peers, we lose ourselves in these stories and safely feel everything all at once that we put away throughout our days. We feel like an ocean rocking against the shore, storms working their way along our coasts. We sit in the thrashing of our meditation and just listen. Just feel.
If story were sport, I might win a triathlon, clacking away the galaxies of thoughts that dance all throughout my day. If story were sport, what were doing in this sacred monthly circle wouldn't be something to mock or scoff at, but a coveted space where women gather to meet each other and ultimately themselves.