The Living School begins this fall, and we’ve already received our orientation kit. A part of it was a set of guiding principles as we begin to make space for the work of the next couple years. As i read through it there was one line that snagged me like a nail on a knit sweater.
“Know that your usual coping devices are being taken from you by contemplative practice. You will, in time, become much more “undefended,” and this is scary and unfamiliar to the ego. Now you must become a holding tank instead of an exhaust valve. “
Wait a second…who are you calling an exhaust valve?!
Pfft. I mean, look, I’m not just blowing air around here. I’m doing lots of really creative things…good things…important things…things that matter. Surely, this isn’t what they’re talking about. Right? He, he…he….he…ugh.
Seeing something true reflected back always requires a hard swallow, and the presence to stay and welcome what is being discovered within, rather than our typical propensity to deny and run from it.
The invitation before me is to evaluate my rhythm, and discern where I might limit my doing. To pay attention to where my ego is defending itself…and hopefully, to begin to let go.
I’ve never done well with limits. The best way to challenge me is to tell me I can’t do something. That line in the sand might as well be sticking its tongue out at me, because all I feel is this taunting desire to jump over it. Especially since I’ve become a mother. Whatever do you mean, “I can’t do it all”??
I know i’m not alone in this. My generation of mothers are the grand-daughters of 50′s housewives, and the daughters of women’s rights. We are the generation of the insanity of impossible expectations on ourselves to work, raise children, make nutritious and delicious meals, look put together (I think this means a daily shower…guess I didn’t pass that test) , be capable of having meaningful dialogue with our husband and friends, have organic gardens, and homes worthy of (may it rest in peace…) Domino magazine.
And its not just young mothers who struggle with the “doing” addiction…its middle aged men, looking for the next promotion, or the better job change. It’s women with flourishing careers, feeling hamsters on the wheel in order to stay where they are on the ladder of success. It’s college kids looking for grades from the great big world beyond their school. It’s empty-nesters, having to face the quiet solitude after so many years of fullness and being needed all the time. Whenever we attach our significance and identity to what we are doing, we’re misplacing our inherent given value outside of our self.
Really, deep down…the question we are asking is: ”Am I enough if I don’t have this…success? job title? family role?” ”Am I good enough…without this?” “Am I…enough?”
This is a question we run from. This is a question our Ego defends with the endless “doing” so that we are never caught naked. At some point we fell prey to the idea that who we were needed to be covered up…as if our unique existence in the history of this miraculous universe needed some dressing up in order to be made worthy.
None of the multiple creative things I am involved with are bad. Neither is the desire to be present to my boys, or have an inviting home, or to have a garden. But when I allow myself to do these things out of a desire to find my significance in them…then, I am just burning gas…because it will never be enough. There will always be an engine running me around, telling me I should be headed somewhere. There will always be something else to grasp for…some other unattainable expectation on myself, more pressure to add to the feeling that “I should…”
The Divine invitation is one of stillness, presence and peace. When we enter into a practice of contemplation, the “doing” ceases to be the driving force. Out of our “being” we can begin “doing” wisely, and well…but we can never find our “being” in what we do. By grace, that contact with the Ground of our Being becomes the resounding “YES” to our heart’s inquiry of “Am I enough?” And when that question gets answered, everything changes.
I am indeed observing all these different “good” things that I enjoy doing. I am chewing on this one challenging sentence and considering, how can i become a holding tank in the next couple years? What can I let go of? Where am i being invited to free myself from attachment?
After all…boundaries also demarcate space. Parameters can be protecting. I am no longer seeing a taunting face as I consider limiting my “output”, but an invitation that would encircle me with love, and make space for growth…and for flourishing life.