About a year ago, I was halfway through my first Vipassana meditation retreat.  Nine days of 4 a.m. wakeup calls and repetitive stretches of motionless perching atop my rotund biscuit of a meditation cushion.  This was basically how all the days went: Oh, let’s see what’s next on the schedule…surprise! More meditation!  Literally the exact same thing I just finished doing!  Also, there was no talking, no reading, no writing (I admit I cheated on this one), no running, no phones, no communication with the outside world.

And it was pretty good actually.

I quickly realized there were infinite layers to the quiet stillness – endless depths of dark intensity and mesmerizing mystery to sink into and explore.  It was quite mystical really, and I was never bored.

But nine days was a lot.

There was also the butt numbness (lord, the butt numbness!)  I couldn’t even look at my meditation cushion for months after, and it took several weeks for full sensation to return to my tailbone-pelvis region.

But through the good and the painful, there were lessons to be had, and this is a brief story of the one that was most impactful:

There was a day, mid-week, when I was doing my daily 30-ish minutes of walking meditation outside and feeling an internal struggle about that. Because even though, yes, this was technically meditation, it was also in violation of the rules. We were supposed to meditate seated and indoors only. And my desire to be a good student and follow the instructions exactly right was beginning to haunt me. But…these blessed minutes outside and moving were one of the few things keeping me tethered to my sanity at that point.

So I had a decision to make: How was I going to do this?  Bend the rules and do what I wanted, or adhere to the clearly outlined authoritative directives?

The answer came in a flash (all that meditation must have opened a portal or something). I remembered that I was in convenient possession of an internal guidance system, and I could find my answers by reading my body.

Basically, my heart is a trustworthy barometer.

And when I thought about it, I saw there was no way around this.  Generally speaking, there are too many voices competing for my allegiance and too much noise demanding my attention to discern the answers from external sources alone.

It was a defining moment, not just for my meditation practice, but also for my understanding of my place in the larger collective moment.  This was November 2016.  The election had just happened, and I spent a lot of the week sitting (literally) with my fear, shock, and uncertainty, feeling flooded and overwhelmed.  There would be so many causes to support and issues to confront, infinite things to say or not say, do or not do, in the months and years ahead.  And I felt completely ill-equipped, lost and unsure how to be in this world that always existed but that I was now seeing for the first time.

So I decided this was what I would take back with me into the noise, commotion, and conflict: a steadfast trust in my own self.

This doesn’t mean I can do it alone.  I need other people – their wisdom, their voice, the truth of their experience.  But rather than conceding to another’s perspective uncritically, I take it in, hold it in my being, filter it through my center, and allow it to change me.  Reliably, good things come through this process of integration and alchemy.

In the case of my meditation conundrum, I kept walking.  It was a beautiful, sort-of warm day (the last one of the year), and my heart knew: that was reason enough.

Allowing Anger

As a sensitive empath, anger (others’ and my own) used to scare me.  It felt too loud, intense, and violent.  But my emotional excavations have revealed anger’s vital – and healing – role in naming wrongs, restoring boundaries, inspiring change, and initiating reparation.

Sometimes, I get angry with my clients at work, and lately, I’ve been trying to give myself full and intentional permission to do that.  Yes, these are people who have experienced domestic violence (and often a myriad of other traumas pertaining to abuse and oppression).  And yes, while I know that anger and frustration are common and understandable features of direct service work with folks in high-stress, crisis situations, this is still super uncomfortable.

Which is why I never used to allow it.  Also, because I believed anger was callous and cruel, a violent force wanting to take possession of my body and turn me into an abominable, havoc-wreaking monster of epic proportions.

But no, anger is just a thing we feel.

It’s a powerful energy, sure, but it need not be channeled into explosive action or hurtful judgment.  And it does have to mean wishing someone ill, making them wrong, or denying their worthiness.

Allowing anger in the context of my DV work is important because if I’m going to honor and allow the fullness of others’ humanity, I need to honor and allow my own.  Pushing away anger is really just a feeble attempt at transcendence and emotional bypassing that separates me from the people I’m with and distances me from our shared experience of messy real life.

None of this means I turn to aggression (or passive aggression, the greater temptation being that I’m from the Midwest) to express myself.  Instead, anger is my ally in forming a grounded, assertive space from which to respond and proceed.

This happened recently.  I was angry with a client and was stuck in the same room with them for over an hour.  So I poured that anger into my energetic boundary (Karla McLaren writes about this practice in her book The Language of Emotions – highly recommended) and put my focus there, which allowed me to speak and act from my soft, true center, since it was grounded in and protected by my anger-fortified boundary).

And this is usually all my anger wants from me: a stronger boundary, safe space and comfortable distance, personal power and sovereignty.  But even before any of that, I think my anger, like any feeling, just wants to be felt – and recognized as the valid (and quite ordinary) human emotion that it is.

I recently returned from a vacation that was absolute perfection – nothing fancy, but a couple days in the paradise that is autumn in Door County, the luxury of a hotel stay, and a plate of cheesy nachos paired with cheesy reality TV – filled my soul and restored my body in ways that felt downright miraculous.

And now, having returned to the Grim Reality of Life, I am suffering from a classic case of post-vacation blues – lamenting the fact that tomorrow, I will be spending 8 hours in a windowless office instead of an enchanted forest.

Thankfully, I know that despairing moods like these are my reliable cues to take my own medicine and do some self-coaching.

So I looked more closely at what I was feeling: dread – and noticed how that was showing up in my body: as sharp ice cubes in my throat. Then, because I believe all emotions and feelings have benevolent, useful messages, I imagined myself stepping into and “becoming” the ice cubes to see what they might have to say and how they might answer questions like: why are you here, what’s your purpose, and how are you trying to help?

As I was channeling the consciousness of these metaphorical, imaginary ice cubes (as one does), I suddenly flashed on the ice castles built each winter near the town I grew up in Minnesota.

The ice cubes wanted to be building blocks and tools of creation, apparently, and they wanted me to build a (metaphorical) castle. They didn’t want to be swallowed or shoved down, and they didn’t want to cause pain. They just wanted to be put to good use, in service of my imagination.

So, what if instead of dreading my return to ordinary life, I brought the magic, joy, and freedom of my vacation back with me tenaciously, intentionally, and imaginatively? What if I found a way to fold that goodness into the whole of my life?

It’s so easy to believe that what I most want can only exist in perfect circumstances far from the messy realness of daily life – that I need to escape to find what I’m truly looking for. But I have a hunch that allowing the good stuff to be present and alive in the here and now, along with my yearning for more of it, in whatever form that takes, opens the way for creativity, ingenuity, and all kinds of magic.

Jonathan and I recently purchased and moved into a beautiful, elderly home (built around 1930) that requires some loving attention and repair. The impending winter means we will soon be putting several of these projects on hold – an expected delay that had me spiraling down a vortex of anxiety nonetheless, as I created doomsday visions of our house literally collapsing around us due to our careless neglect, poor project management, and apparent ineptitude.

It took me about two minutes of moderately perceptive inquiry and self-coaching to realize I had fallen, yet again, into the all-or-nothing trap.

Gets me every time.

My earnest, clever mind created two categories (which it does so well): perfection or disaster – and temporarily convinced me of both their absolute truth and absolute separateness.

I don’t blame my mind for this. The labels, the dichotomies, the categories and contrasts – all of this helps me navigate the world, identify desires, and make decisions.

But either/or thinking is mostly a lie, and when I believe the thoughts that emerge from this paradigm of reality, I mostly suffer.

So in cases like these, I try to find my way back to the both/and space by playing with language and shuffling words around, stepping outside of rational thought, and cavorting with paradox. I try to lull my mind into a confused, contented stupor with illogical, weird absurdities until it shrugs, gives up, and says, “okaaaay, I guess I’ll be seeing myself out then. Let me know when you need me.”

In this instance, I took the scary thought: it might all be for nothing – and turned it around to: it might all be for everything. I don’t really know what this means, but that’s kind of the point. In any case, the process of getting there plugged me back into wholeness, connection, and that something bigger I’m always chasing but can never quite grasp. Also, it feels better, but even more than that, and in a way I can’t really explain (and don’t really need to), it feels truer.

Trusting Ourselves

I was chatting with a client recently about her struggle to set boundaries. As she recounted a recent interaction that felt icky and discombobulating, I was struck by her clarity.

From the very beginning, her body was sending her loud and clear signals: constriction in her gut, blocked energy, overall aversion. When I pointed this out and asked why she chose to continue to engage this person, she sighed, and said, “I just wanted to be nice.” And I could certainly relate – being tempted to give more than I want, saying yes when I wanted to say no, letting others into spaces I want to keep clear – all because I believed it was the kind and nonjudgmental thing to do. But as I’ve come to understand, discernment is a different thing than judgment.

Deciding what’s right for me is not the same as declaring what’s wrong with others. And trusting myself does not mean I’m saying that mine is the only and absolute truth. Does there have to be a grand reason to say no other than not wanting to say yes? Are our preferences, desires, and intuitions reason enough? Do we need to justify or explain our boundaries? Do we even need to understand them perfectly ourselves?

I hope for a culture grounded in consent and personal autonomy, and I want to contribute to its formation. This starts with me. This starts with me setting and respecting my own boundaries and holding to the truth that no one is entitled to my time, energy, presence, and attention. Those things are limited, and I get to decide how to spend them. And yes, I have responsibilities to others too, but this does not mean slackening my boundaries for their benefit. It means honoring their boundaries in the same way I want mine honored. It means asking for permission instead of making assumptions. It means not making demands their energy or emotional labor. It means not entering spaces or conversations that are not for me.

In my own quest to strengthen my boundary-setting muscles, these are some of the practices I have found helpful:

Listen to Your Body

Since we experience reality and receive information through our bodies, our embodied sensations and visceral cues hold and communicate a lot of essential information. When you’re considering a boundary and weighing your options, notice: How do I feel in my body when I’m around this person? Do I feel clenched, heavy, or queasy when I consider letting them into my space? What would make me feel open, relaxed, light, and free?

Create Space for Your Emotions

Our souls and intuitions speak to us through our emotions. Anger, resentment, and fear often point to a need and desire for space, voice, and stronger, clearer boundaries.

Honor Your Needs and Desires in Small Ways (So that You can Honor Them in Large Ways Too)

Since the messages from our bodies and emotions are often subtle, it’s important to tend to the basics – taking bathroom breaks when we’d prefer to keep working, remembering to drink water, allowing anger rather than stuffing it down, taking five minutes to cry – in order to hear them. The more we acknowledge the obvious and follow basic instructions, the more we’re able to hear and use this information to set boundaries when we need to, even when it’s hard.

Name and Unwind the Lies of the Culture

We absorb so many messages and internalize so many expectations from the culture(s) around us. Setting boundaries and saying no may very well violate social expectation. Systems of oppression (like patriarchy, white supremacy, and capitalism, etc.) are especially challenging, as they try to convince us that our worthiness must be achieved through privilege, productivity, and/or adherence to their standards of beauty and respectability.

Dismantling these lies is an important step toward reclaiming our personal autonomy, as well as an act of profound political resistance. Being willing to say no and disappoint others, claiming our time and space, and spending our attention and energies in ways that are right for us are all important skills in creating a life of intention, meaning, and grounded-ness. And in the end, it all starts with and comes down to this: hearing our inner wisdom, believing our truths, and trusting ourselves.

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The Both/And Space

For a while now, and especially since the election last year, I’ve felt pulled between two divergent understandings of reality:
1. Times are dire, and things are profoundly not okay. People are being hurt. Oppression continues to roar in old and new and imaginatively reinvented ways. And also: we’re heading toward ecological collapse that will mark the end of humanity on planet earth.
2. Everything will be okay and is already okay. There are deeper forces at work. We can heal. We will turn this around.

I’ve vacillated between the two, trying to figure out which story is most true, effective, and helpful, and to be honest, I’ve not been particularly impressed with either. When I step into the not okay version of reality, I quickly descend into manic despair, despondent self-loathing, and/or fatigued paralysis, all the while torturing myself with visions of apocalyptic hellscapes I’m convinced loom imminently and ominously on the horizon. Exhausted and overwhelmed, I turn to the everything-is-okay story, which feels better until I begin to look away from truths that ask something of me, slip into spiritual bypass, and run from pain (mine and others), none of which is in my integrity.

But in the rhythm of this back and forth, I began to notice brief flickers of peace. I realized they existed in the transitory moment when the pendulum passed through the middle on its way to the other side.

And the more I saw this, the more I felt pulled back to that middle, the space in-between my stories, to the very center of…something – the both/and space, where two or more things are true at the same time. Paradox. And this is the only way I know how to be in the world right now.

So life has sort of become a journey of descending deeper into: “wow, the world is really fucked-up, beyond what I ever imagined. How do we even bear it?” But also and at the same time: “wow, the world is a truly magical place, beyond anything I ever hoped for or imagined. How do we even stand it!?” Both may be true, but either by themselves feels like a lie.

I’m convinced we are living in a both/and time, a time in which we are being called to expand to hold more pain, more truth, more mystery, more paradox, and more magic – to make space for the multiplicities calling our names.

So I’m going in, looking hard at the world and letting the pain of it swallow me up, reaching, at the same time, for a loving stillness I don’t quite understand that meets me there and asks me to move in generative cycles of blended contradiction rather than in straight-lined, back-and-forth pendulums. And sometimes, in this quiet space stilled by paradox, I can almost feel something like hope, an unknown yet familiar thing, stirring under the surface.

Care vs. Comfort

I’ve been thinking a lot about self-care lately: what it means, where it’s found, how to do it well. As I’m figuring this out (sort of), I’ve been contemplating the distinction between care and comfort – one I picked up a couple years ago at a mindfulness workshop.  At the mid-morning break, our instructor encouraged us to use the time for care rather than comfort – to really consider, in other words, what would give us actual nourishment, as opposed to a temporary hit of pleasure or distraction.

This seemed really wise and everything, but even as I nodded earnestly in agreement, I felt the magnetic pull of my iphone, gleaming in the corner of my eye, as it drew me toward the sugary comfort of exciting new emails and facebook notifications.  I felt a sudden surge of rebellion.  Hey, what’s so bad about comfort anyway?  Sometimes I just want the easy and unwholesome thing, dammit!  Is that so wrong!?

Not wrong, I decided – just something other than care.  As I’ve come to understand it, the essential difference between the two is this: care is the leaning into the thing, and comfort is the leaning away from the thing.

When I choose comfort over care, I’m likely distracting myself and checking out of the work I need to do to be okay over the long-haul (work that will still be there waiting for me after I’ve done the comforting thing).

Not that this is necessarily always bad.  Things like the Netflix binge, the hours surfing the web, or the slow-paced doing of nothing in particular may not seem especially enriching, but they also sort of are, sometimes, (and for God’s sake I’m only human!)  There are times when comfort is exactly what I want and need, times when the intentional choosing of comfort eases my reentry into home life after too much time in civilization or clears space and energy enough so that I can unwind and get to real rest.

So comfort isn’t a problem – unless your comfort is something really destructive (like there’s really no place for, say, heroin in the spectrum of health and wellness) – but at the same time, I’m attentive to its dark side: how it can morph into patterns of numbing and addiction; how it can take me out of myself in high doses; how it can make what I actually need feel even more strenuous and out of reach.

When I choose care, on the other hand, I’m engaging the work (or play!) of healing, restoring, and mending.  I’m moving trauma, emotion, and energy, flushing it out of my system.  I’m burrowing into truth and filling my tank.   For me, care specifically looks like moving my body (preferably in densely wooded areas where the bird to human ratio is approximately 200,000 to 1), sitting on my meditation cushion, stepping into creative flow, and (perhaps most challenging of all) going to bed at a decent hour – the things that when I don’t do them, my sweetheart notices right away and kindly asks me to return to (immediately, if possible, for all our sakes).  Care feels good, but sometimes it takes effort, discipline, or physical exertion to get it moving; sometimes it means going into pain or facing exhaustion and dealing with what’s real inside.

I’ve found that even though comfort can seem slow and lethargic, it often moves at a manic tempo and lightening speed – especially when I ask it to fix or fill (not its job).  But care is a slow thing, and this is how I recognize it.  While comfort asks me to grasp, spin, click, and consume faster, care asks me to tune in to the energy of my body, the earth, the quiet – all of which hum at a slower vibration than my thinking mind and day-to-day responsibilities.   It kindly asks me to feel, sit, listen, and breathe (to not outrun my humanness, in other words) because, as I’m beginning to learn, that’s where all the good, true stuff waits to be found.

I moved over the weekend.  Just when I thought I had maybe reached a new threshold of equanimity and spiritual maturity – or at least a rudimentary baseline of emotional stability – I was struck, yet again, by stressful and annoying life circumstances (imagine that), which summoned forth my wrathful inner toddler like a kraken from the sea.

The move went fine, really.  No crashing of the U-haul or breaking of the furniture.  No bodily injury grave enough to warrant medical attention.  But still, even when moving goes well, as it did in this case, there is something inherently and existentially taxing about the process of sorting through, gathering up, and physically transporting the entirety of one’s worldly possessions from one location to another.

I tried my best – I really did.  I tried to be light and flexible and affirming of my helpers.  And I was!  Mostly.  But as the day wore on and I became more and more tired and hungry and frightened of this new thing my life was becoming, I started to slip.  My reserves of stalwart willpower began to plummet exponentially, and through the fuzziness of my frayed nerves, I watched in horror as my two year-old toddler self took apparent possession of my body.  I heard myself spout testy utterances at my brother (who had generously traversed state lines to help us heave cumbersome furniture through narrow doorframes) and my sweetheart (whose eternal and ever-flowing patience is truly unparalleled) as I spiraled into a full-blown crabbiness rampage: The couch doesn’t go there, you fools!  What took so bloody long at Home Depot!?  Why is this not done yet, dammit!? 

Ashamed of my wayward volatility, I was humbled, yet again, by the inconvenient fact that I live in a human body that is not always obliging to my agenda for the day, one that inevitably and predictably reduces me to a crabby cucumber when it does not get what it wants and needs.

So naturally, instead of doing what I needed to restore my equilibrium – relax, sleep, wander aimlessly through my new home to get acclimated – I charged ahead, taking on too much the next day, pushing through in a haze of sleep-deprivation and frazzled overwhelm to force myself back into a stream of tasks I wasn’t yet ready for.

Guess how that went.

So yes, mistakes were made this weekend.  I totally screwed up is what I’m saying, not only in my crabby outbursts at loved ones but also in my neglect of my own recovery and restoration the next day. But the nice thing about mistakes is that they always seem to pull me back into a truth (or several) I’d forgotten and need to remember.

Here’s one thing I learned from the error of my ways this time around:

Life is not a game of transcending the toddler.  That is a losing battle, my friends.  You will die on that hill.  As disappointing as this may seem (and it certainly often feels disappointing to me), no amount of personal evolution, spiritual growth, or self-actualization will silence our inner toddlers or evict them from our very human bodies.  Our inner toddler is always there and always ready for their next tantrum.  And thank God.  We totally need them to whack us upside the head when we start acting like a disembodied robot who is deluded into thinking we have no need or no time for things like nourishment, rest, movement, space, silence, cycles, creativity, connection, etc.  You’ve been ignoring this?  Well, no need to worry.  Your inner toddler has it handled.

My toddler reminds me to check in with my levels of exhaustion, hunger, and irritability on a regular basis.  She asks me to have a real relationship with my body (like, one that involves authentic communication and active listening).  She demands that I pay close attention to my emotional landscape.  She requires routine, transition time, regular meals, patient slowness, and naptime.  She needs loving-kindness, gentle directives, and soothing reassurances.

And when times are turbulent and tumultuous, she asks for what is most essential and stabilizing and brings to center what I most need in the present moment.

Most of all, she reminds me that my full humanness must be allowed.

After all, I was not born into this world to push away what is most real and essential about living a human existence on planet earth.  This experience of being alive is not something to bypass or transcend.  It is something to live into.

And this is a thing we get to relearn again and again, so don’t worry if you forget.  Your inner toddler will always be there to remind you.

https://www.elephantjournal.com/2017/08/just-because-change-is-good-doesnt-mean-it-doesnt-suck/

Lately, I’ve been feeling higher-than-usual levels of crabbiness, anxiety, and malaise – probably because wonderful things are happening in my life.

And while I’m often reduced to toddler levels of petulant weepiness when life hands me something I’m not particularly fond of, this also sometimes happens in the wake of life occurrences that are undeniably and categorically awesome.

For instance: I’m writing this on the same day we closed on our new house, and instead of partaking in jubilant merriment, I’m huddled away in the smallest room of this home where we’ve temporarily set up camp (because all the other rooms feel too big and empty and scary right now), an inflated air mattress with two bags of necessities, enough to last us a few days while we plot the big move.  And about five minutes ago, I was a truly a pathetic sight – crying into my pillow, trying to stave off feelings of impending doom.

It’s times like these when it’s helpful to remember something I tend to forget: wanted change is often just as difficult, demanding, and frightening as unwanted change.

At least with unwanted change – loss, failure, illness, global calamity, etc. – we’re given permission to be sad and freak out a little.  But with happy changes – the kind we work hard for and get congratulated for: marriage, the birth of a child, a new job, an exciting move, etc. – there is typically less space allowed for reactions and emotions that don’t fit the script.

But when I look back on the big life moments – the ones that marked some new level of transformation, expansion, and actualization – that walk through the doors on the first day of junior high, college, and graduate school, the signing of the marriage license, that step off the airplane into a country whose language I only sort of spoke – they were pretty much always accompanied by at least one oh-my-god-what-have-I-done? moment.

Any change (and especially the kind where we can’t imagine who we’ll be or what life will mean on the other side) puts stress on the system.  It asks us to let go of what we know, float around for an indeterminate amount of time in a manic banana swirl of chaos and uncertainty, and then trust that something coherent will coalesce out of the frenzied disarray.

First, there’s the challenge of the details – the seemingly unrelenting cascade of not-yet-done tasks and not-yet-made decisions that often accompanies large and momentous transformation.  Sometimes the walk toward the next right thing feels less like floating toward destiny and more like painstaking progression by checklist (or crying in the paint aisle of Home Depot, totally incapable of visually or intellectually processing the infinite array of paint chip options).

But more than that, big change not only alters life circumstances; it also has a way of transforming the very fabric of our identities, as we shape-shift to fit a new reality, hold a new responsibility, or enter a new life stage.

Now, there many stories I could tell myself about what my hard emotions mean: that I’m bad, ungrateful, and whiny, that I made the wrong decision, that I should just pull it all together and suck it up.  Or on the other hand, I could just let myself be a human who sometimes has feelings about things.

Which is what I’m trying to do this time around.  It’s easy to judge myself, especially when there are actual and legitimate things to be upset about – unhinged global leaders with access to nuclear weapons and white supremacy in Charlottesville (and everywhere, really).  But our emotions exist whether they make sense or not, and it is both possible and helpful to honor them in their weirdness, contradiction, and complexity, without making them the only real thing or making ourselves wrong for having them.

And the more I do this, the more space seems to be cleared for the new thing being born.  So now, when emotions come up that feel confusing or overwhelming, I try let them just be there.  Because I know they don’t have to make rational sense.  I don’t have to fix or even understand them.  My only job to is to give them (and myself) some room to breath.  And if I can do this, I know that I’m at least sort of on the right track.

https://www.elephantjournal.com/2017/08/just-because-change-is-good-doesnt-mean-it-doesnt-suck/

Reclaiming Hatred

I hate getting angry.  It’s unsettling, right?

Think about it: how many acts of violence, declarations of war, and petty arguments about whose turn it was to empty the dishwasher begin with anger?  A lot, I think.

Anger has done some serious damage is what I’m saying, and it reminds me what I’m capable of, what we’re all capable of.

I still remember the time I got so angry at my brother that I completely lost it and called him a mean name (which may or may not have included a swear word).  I was ten.  It haunted me for years.  I vowed I would always keep it together after that.

But having since acquired a rudimentary grasp of psychology 101, I now understand that it is profoundly okay and often exceedingly helpful to feel emotions.

Because:

  1. They are rivers of energy that just want to be felt.
  2. They are never wrong or bad in and of themselves.
  3. They only become problematic when we a) stuff them down so that they get stuck in our bodies and create all sorts of physical and emotional problems or b) fling them carelessly on innocent bystanders.

And I’ve found that when I let myself feel my emotions, good things happen: I often feel a little less shitty, get to relief and clarity, instinctively know what to do next, experience paradigm shifts, and, on rare and special occasions, hear wise and helpful voices talking to me from the Great Beyond.  Success!

But often, anger still feels tricky – like it carries with it elevated levels of danger and darkness I need to be careful of, tiptoe around, or stuff in a basement closet.

My most recent experience of intense anger came in an encounter with a “splainer” (someone who explains things – often in a condescending manner, never pausing to ask questions or hear feedback – about a subject the listener already knows a lot about).  In this instance, my splainer was explaining me to me.

God, I was annoyed – also affronted, enraged, and filled with indignation.  I knew I should probably release the pressure valve and just allow the anger to move a little, but directing my fury at my splainer – an actual person, rather than an impersonal system or circumstance – seemed violent, and I was a little worried I might be dooming myself if I let this energy loose in my body.

But since it had worked so well in other cases, I went ahead anyway.  I raged; I ranted; I said mean things to this person in my head I would never say out loud to another human being ever.  It felt good…and villainous, especially when I realized it wasn’t just anger I was feeling, but hatred…which was sort of horrifying.  Like, was this okay?

Absolutely not, according to my social programming.  As a woman, I was socialized away from anger (just as men are socialized away from sadness), and if anger wasn’t allowed, hatred certainly wasn’t.  There was also the influence of my Lutheran upbringing, the echoes of which now coalesced into some sort of pious Ghost of Christianity Past, suddenly appearing to guide me through key memories of my religious history.  I returned to one of the more dramatic Bible verses I’d learned in Sunday School: anyone who hates is a murderer.

And I sort of get this.  Yeah, our intentions matter.  Also, don’t sit there fondling your hatred.  Don’t stew in it or use your stories to keep you stuck in the muck of it.  And please, for the love of God, don’t make it into a thing that gives you license to treat other human beings like crap.  Yes.  Okay.

But it was also a message that had programmed a certain theological point into my consciousness: sins are not only the things you do, the wrongs you commit; they are the thoughts you think, the feelings you allow, and the fantasies you entertain.  God can read our minds, and if what God finds there is bad, well then you’re in trouble.  So essentially, the message was: it’s not really safe or okay to feel what’s real inside of you.

But here’s the thing: I’ve learned that to be okay, I need to do just that: feel what’s real inside of me.  So, I flouted my Christian education and felt the hatred anyway, and this is what I discovered: it is an emotion like any other!  It has important things to say.  It’s meant to flow.  It’s not meant to settle into absolute truth or permanent conclusion.  It wants to be something we catch and release.

And sure enough, after I felt the feelings and worked the story, the charge of my hatred was gone.  The obsessive, sick feeling had been burned up in the fire of my rage, and in its place was a newfound spaciousness.  I saw my hatred then for what it was: energy coming and going, a benevolent force instructing me to restore a boundary and take a closer look at my own shadow.  Shutting it down would have only separated me from myself.

So, yay!  I can feel a thing and not be bad.  I can hold what’s hard.  And I can trust my emotions to show me what I need to see, take me where I need to go, and ultimately steer me toward something good and true.