Our Gifts Are Also Our Obstacles

For all my bluster around creating belonging and nurturing community, I am hitting a significant obstacle within myself that is preventing me from building relationships.

I am deeply insecure about initiating conversation and connection, as well as continuing connection to people with whom I don’t have a natural chemistry and flow.

At work I have opportunities to visit members or spend time in the community room and I haven’t followed through. I only feel comfortable when I have an introduction or a purpose in making contact with someone and somehow I can’t make the leap to understanding that just being part of this community is permission enough.

It isn’t about the people we work with, although adding layers of physical and mental disability makes it more complicated. The truth is that I have always been this way. I am shy in new situations and with new people in every context. I had the same obstacle with the Imps and truthfully, I usually overcame it through oxytocin, champagne and/or drugs (weed and Molly). Generally, once I established relationship with someone at a party, then I felt free to connect with them any time after.

I have to be presented with a reason and/or way to break the ice with someone and feel a sense of permission to continue building connection before I slip into the comfort of regular interaction. My inability to small talk also gets in the way if I don’t achieve a certain vulnerability with someone. I have no real interest in shallow interactions, in part because I don’t know how to relate that way.  Also because I am wired for depth, for emotional connection far more than intellectual. And whether it’s nature or nurture, social niceties and commonly agreed rules for engagement don’t come naturally to me.

So while my heart hungers and calls me to more relationship and connection, and my mind tells me this belonging stuff is vital to human happiness, I resist what makes me uncomfortable. I am ridiculously courageous and vulnerable in many other ways. I’ve raised children by myself, sculpted vulvas for the world to see, hostessed erotic parties, had sex in front of people, posed nude for photographers and told my raw stories in many venues…why is this so fucking hard? Why is it easy for me to be vulnerable with strangers on Facebook and my blog, sharing my deepest thoughts and feelings with the world, and yet I struggle to be vulnerable face-to-face?

They say our greatest gifts also contain our darkest shadow. I am an empath who feels people, but doesn’t know how to talk to them. I am a community builder who is shy and insecure about initiating connection. Someone shared this article with me today about the relationship between social anxiety and empathy being discovered by researchers. I realize this is exactly the challenge – I feel people’s emotions so I am acutely aware of their response to me. I can feel if someone is engaged or disinterested. I can feel when someone shuts down their heart or mind, even if their words say differently. I have social anxiety because I am anxious about feeling other people’s discomfort and negative emotions, especially when it’s directed toward me.

My only real option is to just face it down and try to connect, even when it turns awkward or difficult. As well as work at not taking what I feel personally. Like anything else, this is going to take practice and it’s ok if I don’t get it perfect. My deepest desire and intent is to love, to connect, and to create a sense of belonging for others near and far. I can mess it up and I’ll still be doing better than all the narcissists in the world acting only for themselves. I can bumble and struggle and still make a difference in someone’s day. I won’t connect with everyone I attempt to but that’s ok because that isn’t my job. It’s my job to make the effort, to follow the pullings of my heart and let go of the outcome (like when I drop lovebombs and never know if someone appreciated them or threw them away).

My integrity demands that I do better and my heart calls me to be more. I am hoping by admitting this breakdown in my process toward the work of my heart, and the shame that I feel around failing to be the relationship nurturer that I claim to be, that I am creating a crack in the wall of my resistance.

The Unfolding of Birth Mother Grief

I am having a new experience with our son. He has taken to his Mom in a much deeper way lately. He seeks her out when she leaves the house, or even the room. He often wants her when he has a need or is in distress. And he calls her name a lot more than any of the rest of the coparents. Yesterday, when he and I were at home alone, he spent a few minutes calling for Mom as he went down for a nap and he didn’t want me to lay down with him, though I could sit near him.

On one hand it’s exactly as it’s supposed to be. Jen is his Mom. She is his primary caregiver. She is the one nurturing the Mommy relationship with him – she’s there for nearly every need and desire all day and night. This is the whole intent of the adoption, so Jen could be Mom and I could be free.

I work and then I spend a lot of time in my bedroom in self-care because it’s difficult with Fibromyalgia to work full time, nurture my primary relationship with Eros, and nurture my creative projects (so that someday I can work on my own terms). I am doing everything I can to manage my condition and decrease pain, but it’s always a process. Since I started working I have very few spoons left for our son and I knew this is how it would be. This is one of the main reasons I gave him for adoption to someone who was both willing and able to be present to his needs in a way that I am physically incapable of being.

On the other hand it’s really hard not to take his refusal of my care personally. It’s not an overwhelming feeling, in fact it sneaked up on me a bit at a time over the last few weeks, but I have this sense – whether true or not – that he is rejecting me because I am not there for him enough. I struggle with feeling that I’ve hurt him, and myself, by allowing this distance between us.

It’s been several months since I’ve felt birth mother grief. This is a new petal unfolding in this complex flower of experience. We’ve reached the place where he is choosing Mom over all others, which is appropriate and normal…and yet it aches. It’s a dull ache. Not anything like the grief I felt the night I left him the first time (a story I will tell someday soon). Nor is it as sharp as the grief that came when I first moved in with him and his adoptive parents and adjusted to being Amma.

I imagine this is what it will be like from now on. Long stretches of goodness and joy, with small bouts of heartache for what I’ve lost in giving up my right and privilege to be this amazing human’s Mom.

He is mine and not mine. He is Ours.

There is so much magic, delight and meaning in this unique family we’ve made. The goodness far outweighs the heartache. We have our tiny conflicts around sharing a house, but there is only understanding and kindness when it comes to sharing our son. Even when I ache I know I am held in love and generosity by his co-parents.

And I get to experience the incredible every day moments of our son learning to be a human. He’s starting two and three word sentences now, so proud when he puts words together in a meaningful way. He’s started singing songs on his own – with just enough intonation and tune for us to know if he’s trying to sing the ABCs or Old MacDonald. He’s a little bundle of dramatic highs and lows, in some ways very much like his older siblings and in other ways completely his own person. As it should be.

Everything is as it should be.
I know this because I am the happiest I have ever been.
Even when it hurts.

A New Home

11101211_10204738218788880_4724480382999700391_oI will no longer live with constant traffic noise and sirens on 82nd street or the pounding of three children’s running feet above my head. I will no longer see prostitutes and johns negotiating in our parking lot downstairs. (I hope) I will longer hear shouting and screaming from across the street on a too regular basis.

I will no longer live in this place that is far too much like the life I thought I left behind, where we were poor and surrounded by people who are struggling and suffering.

I will no longer feel like I’ve moved backward in my capacity and success in creating abundance.

I will no longer live on pause because of the limitations of this space.

I felt grief in leaving my last two homes – the quirky barn surrounded by redwoods and the precious home with the giant sun-room where we lived through the pregnancy, birth and and adoption.

But saying goodbye to this apartment only brings relief and excitement, so much joy I don’t care that my body hurts. I feel no stress today.

This apartment has been a space-holder rather than a place that feels like home. And for this Cancer-Moon Child, who needs a beautiful and comfy space to be home in the way a crab needs the fit and safety of its shell, it was hard to feel good and happy here. It is the love I share with my special family and the profound generosity of Jennefer​ and Jillian​ that sustained me through this uncomfortable, unsettled time.

We’ve been dreaming together for more than a year. While it took a bit longer than was comfortable, the Universe worked some pretty spectacular magic to give us a home that met nearly every aspect of our wish list on the first try.

Today our hopes and dreams become real.
Today we create Our Home, a place where all of us can thrive.

We Need to Talk about Belonging

belonging_graphic-565x333“We are all longing to go home to some place we have never been — a place, half-remembered, and half-envisioned we can only catch glimpses of from time to time. Community. Somewhere, there are people to whom we can speak without having the words catch in our throats. Somewhere a circle of hands will open to receive us, eyes will light up as we enter, voices will celebrate with us whenever we come into our own power. Community means strength that joins our strength to do the work that needs to be done. Arms to hold us when we falter. A circle of healing. A circle of friends. Someplace where we can be free.” – Starhawk

This morning I did a Google search on the word belonging. I was disappointed by the immediate results. Six of the first nine links are definition sites (dictionary, thesaurus, wikipedia, etc.). The third entry is an article on Psychology Today on creating one’s own sense of belonging from March 24, 2014. A year ago. The fifth entry is an article from CNN about one research study done on the highly positive impact of creating belonging for college students through a particular intervention from June 1, 2012. The one brilliant gem is link seven, a pdf booklet called The Importance of Belonging, which was written from a human services perspective about providing belonging for people with disabilities who live in isolation. The same people I am striving to relate to every day at work in order to learn how to create and nurture belonging for all of us.

Belonging is in the middle of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Which means that it’s the third most vital need to our health and well-being, the first two being physiological and safety needs. And yet we aren’t really talking about it. We talk endlessly about physical health and safety. Think about it. How much media is about our health and safety? We also talk about esteem and self actualization, the fourth and fifth needs on the hierarchy. Yet we are just starting to research and talk about belonging, particularly because of Brene Brown’s TEDTalk on vulnerability, shame and connection going viral. As a culture we aren’t yet paying attention to its importance in creating a healthy society, where all of the needs of our human family are met.

Much of our conflict, addiction, depression and other mental-emotional human challenges could be solved by creating a place of belonging and connection for everyone. I think this could be the answer to bullying as well. This is why the work I do now is feels vital. We have to recognize that this is just as important as addressing disease and climate change. And that belonging is the foundation of social justice because social justice seeks to repair the impact of exclusion on various populations. We could do so much more long-term good if we were building communities rather than bureaucracies to address our deepest needs and greatest heartaches.

I had hoped when I googled belonging that I would see books, studies, projects, communities, etc. addressing this basic need. The first book that comes up on page two is a romance novel. bell hooks’ book Belonging: A Culture of Place comes in at link thirteen. There are other resources out there, but it says so much that they aren’t on the first two pages of the largest search engine in the world.

I look back on the arc of my first 40 years of life and I see that this has been the point all along. In the shadows of a narcissistic mother, emotionally absent father, and alcoholic stepfather, I was literally starving for a sense of belonging. The sex and relationships that led to my first two children were an attempt at finding belonging with someone, with anyone. Belonging was the basis of The Impropriety Society (I would argue more than sex), as well as all of the other groups I’ve been a part of. All of the people in my life who have suffered deeply could source their challenges in the hunger for belonging. Kids join gangs to belong. People join cults and terrorist organizations to belong. Women stay in violent relationships to belong. Consumers even follow brands to belong. The issues we have with materialism, race, gender, sexuality, religion, and all the other categories we use to divide ourselves, they can all be sourced back to this basic need for belonging.

We just want to belong. Each and everyone of us.

Unfortunately we spend a lot of energy trying to be exclusive with our belonging when its inclusion that brings the greatest reward and deepest satisfaction. If we’re going to improve our society and the lives of our human family, there has to be a cultural conversation about our needs for inclusive belonging and genuine connection.  Being conscious of this basic human need, as well as intentionally nurturing it within our communities, could change everything.

There is so much more I have to say. The muse is on fire and there will be more soon. I have been looking for the “hook” for my book and my new work in the world and now I know I have found it. Belonging. This is where my passion meets the world’s need. I can’t wait to see what we create together.

Thank you for listening. I pray you experience belonging in your life.
Please know you matter and you are loved.

Grief as Deep Activism

Recently I was introduced to the idea of grief as deep activism and today I experienced it in action.

“What has become clear is the powerful role grief plays in enabling us to face what is taking place in our communities, our ecologies, families, nations, etc. What I mean by that is that grief is a powerful emotion capable of keeping the edges of the heart pliable, flexible, fluid, and open to the world, and as such, becomes a potent support for any form of activism we may intend to take, indeed is itself a vital form of soul activism.” Francis Weller

This afternoon I attended the annual interfaith memorial service for those on the streets of the Old Town community who died in the last year. Operation Nightwatch in collaboration with several downtown religious leaders (Christian, Muslim, Native American, and others) led the service with prayers, music, poetry, and a reading of the names/lighting of candles for those who died.

I went into it thinking about this concept of grief as activism. I didn’t know anyone on the list of over 100 names. I’m certain I will next year, as it turns out more than 20 were once members of our center. But each of those names represents a life, a person. Someone who was once a mother’s child. Someone who has brought moments of exquisite goodness into the world. I believe each and every one of them are worth honoring. Every one is worth taking an hour of my time to hold them in my heart and mind as if they matter. Because they do matter.

There aren’t very many of us, people who will take the time and heart to share in this celebration and grief. There aren’t many of us who say with our actions that these humans have value in our lives. In a city of more than half a million people, there were only 50 people in the sanctuary, less than half a person for each person on the list.

Fuck. I used to think I was invisible. Now I understand that I really have no idea what it is to truly be unseen. I have always mattered to someone, even if in specific moments it was only my crazy mother or my children. I have had many friends, lovers, mentors, and people who believed in me. I know people will show up to honor me when I die. I am blessed beyond measure in this way.

But because I do know the pain of feeling invisible, and I now know the joy of finding my place, I want everyone to be blessed with belonging. I want everyone to know that they matter to someone. I want my local community to understand that these are our people and we need to take care of them!

Whether you break it down biologically, through quantum physics, or through spirituality, it all comes down to the absolute Truth that this is our family. We are all connected and we are hurting ourselves by allowing our people to suffer.

We all deserve belonging.
We all deserve to be witnessed in our lives and our deaths.
Damn it, we can do better than this.