Grab a Shovel

I have come to realize that I’m an inveterate optimist. I also accept my contradictions as a pragmatic idealist. These orientations keep me from going insane. They are the wellspring of any equanimity I possess. They create the space for me to take action and risk being known.

Those are the pretty words I use in polite company. The reality is that it feels like shoveling shit. You remember the old joke don’t you? It goes like this:

Worried that their son was too optimistic, the parents of a little boy took him to a psychiatrist. In an attempt to dampen the boy’s spirits, the psychiatrist showed him into a room piled high with nothing but horse manure. Instead of displaying distaste, the little boy clambered to the top of the pile and began digging.

“What are you doing?” the psychiatrist asked.

“With all this manure” the little boy replied, beaming, “there must be a pony in here somewhere.”

You see… instead of a room filled with horse manure, my shit is everywhere, piled high and deep. And, if that weren’t enough, other people throw shit at me too. Lots of it. Sometimes they’re shoveling their shit on top of my shit. <sigh> So, I pick up my shovel and get to work. I have never found a pony. I probably never will. I’m not sure that I would know what to do with a pony if I found one. But, there I am shoveling away. I shovel because of what I have found.

I’ve found all manner of things that I never expected. I have found creative ideas. I’ve found that clearing a path through is not a means to escape but a route to connection. I’ve discovered that other people will shovel shit with you and thereby become dear friends. I have found love in the middle of a shit show. Most importantly, I found myself by way of my own excrement. I figured out how to own my shit. I learned that I could produce less and shovel more. I found peace knowing my back is strong, my shovel is wide and my friends are willing.

And so, I shovel shit. No, it’s not easy. It stinks. It hurts my back. It’s exhausting. What makes me an optimist is that I believe my efforts are effective even when I can’t see over my pile. I’m a pragmatic idealist because I smell the excrement fully, I understand that it’s not a pile of roses, and yet I know from balls to bones that wading in with shovel in hand is necessary to joyful living. I will even carry my shovel to your shit pile. We can uncover the joy that comes with struggling through life together.

Tenderhearted

There are some days when tears rest easy on the eyes.  Days when I can’t seem to grab my emotional equilibrium.  Sometimes that emotional tenderness lasts for many days.  It all started when I breezed into my therapist’s office all cocksure as if I had the world figured out.  Well, of course, you know how this ends.  His probing and probative questions did their job well.  They opened me up.  But, by doing so, they also landed me squarely on uncertain ground.  I have yet to regain my emotional footing.  And so, tears rest easy on my eyes, neither spilling forward nor retreating.

“When things are shaky and nothing is working, we might realize that we are on the verge of something.  We might realize that this is a very vulnerable and tender place, and that tenderness can go either way.  We can shut down and feel resentful or we can touch in on that throbbing quality. ”    ―  Pema Chödrön

But, the particulars of this shifting sand aren’t really the point of me telling you this story.  It is about how intensely alone I feel at these moments.  And, the reality that it is somewhat self-inflicted.  You see, this shaky tenderness is where I feel most frightened, vulnerable. A spot where I have an excess of feeling and few answers.  It is a place where my analytical, problem solving mind has no facts from which to derive an appropriate solution.  It is even a struggle to describe the nature of the problem itself.  Words fail me.  In essence, my IQ is of little use and my EQ is unprepared, a weak muscle unaccustomed to exercise.  And so, I’m left in a battle with myself mostly unarmed. (more…)

On Staying Friends: Valuing People Over Relationships

Yeah…  ummmm…. what?

Romantic relationships are hard. Long-term compatibility is difficult and hard to predict.  Relationships end.  When they do, it seems that it is almost required for the former partners to nearly disavow the others’ existence.  Does it really make sense for us to discard people when those romantic relationships end?   What once was close connection becomes cold, distant.  Does my interest in you only extend as far as my romantic connection? Or, to put it more crassly, am I only interested in you if you’re sharing my bed?

No, emphatically no!  (well, maybe that occasional hottie who seduces me before I get my senses, which doesn’t happen very frequently).

I only choose to date people with whom I feel a broader connection. I keep my heart open – I don’t preciously guard connection, caring and even love.  They tumble forth when I connect.  I choose to love with abandon.  This does open up the possibility of getting my heart-broken.  I see no other way to live this life fully, passionately.  A broken heart is not my biggest fear. (more…)