Dirty Little Lies And Other Truths

I’ve had some hard-to-swallow ‘ah-ha’ moments in my life. Epiphanies aren’t always pretty.

In my forties, I developed writing-for-self-discovery techniques specifically for mucking around in my subconscious. After decades of pretending to be what everyone else wanted, I had an overwhelming desire to know who I really was. In the process, I dredged up uncomfortable core beliefs only to discover that many of them were lies:

You’re not loveable
You’re not worthy
You’re not smart enough, pretty enough, rich enough
You can’t do it alone
Everyone leaves
Love hurts
What you say doesn’t matter
What you want doesn’t matter
Nobody cares about your opinion

The list went on and on. My thoughts, self-esteem, and actions had been informed by those subconscious beliefs.

I needed a different narrative but mantras didn’t work. Saying something over and over again doesn’t change anything if you don’t believe what you’re telling yourself. I found if I listed facts that countered the lies I could reshape my beliefs. For example, I challenged the ‘you’re not smart enough’ story with the fact that I’d graduated at the top of my class in college. ‘You can’t do it alone’ was a joke. My income was supporting my three daughters and jobless husband. Those exercises changed my life and propelled me to move abroad and write my memoir.

Fast-forward to yesterday.

A friend read my completed manuscript and we met for lunch. I asked for an honest, spare-no-feelings critique. Her feedback was insightful and I took notes. Then she swallowed a bite of coconut gelato, sat back and looked dreamily over the rice paddies stretching before us. “You were a clear example of the prostitute archetype,” she said.

Have you ever experienced a situation where something hits with such force, such truth, you’re caught there and everything else dissolves around you? My chest constricted. I held my breath. My heart rate tripled at the very least. Goosebumps lifted the hair on my arms. A sickening lurch rolled through my stomach and five marriages scrolled across my mind like a movie.

But we were married. My pathetic rebuttal was silenced by the ugly certainty that marriage changed nothing. It was, in fact, the ultimate soul-selling deception: my services for their income secured by a vow.

I’d written the memoir but I hadn’t seen myself for what I was until my friend pointed it out. I’m grateful in a stunned kind of way. It reinforces what I’ve witnessed time and again as I’ve gone through the process of regurgitating my life. We are the stories we tell ourselves and often they are fabrications that make our experiences bearable. We can accept small revelations of actual truth doled out over time if we’re aware enough to see them.

Accepting that I played the prostitute role is a hard pill, but I swallowed and I know my friend is right. In spite of this grossly unflattering information, there’s a part of me (undoubtedly my shadow) that’s excited. Something hidden has been dragged into the light. I’ve been given the opportunity to examine the implications as they affect me going forward and make necessary adjustments. I’ll be a healthier human as a result.

And my honest friend? I appreciate her more than ever.

The image at the top is attributed to lonerwolf.com. To learn more about the prostitute archetype click here.

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My Six Year Search for Baking Soda – The Danger of Assuming That We Know What We’re Looking For!

 

I took many things for granted before moving to Bali six years ago. I assumed that:

  • days were warm and nights were balmy
  • rainy season was the occasional thunder storm
  • hair products and cosmetics were available
  • I’d have a kitchen
  • not only a kitchen, but a shower and flushing toilet
  • earth tremors were nothing more than a gentle massage

Reality proved to be a variation on that theme.

  • days were hot and nights with a fan on high were tolerable
  • rainy season was a continuous deluge from January through April
  • hair products and cosmetics proliferated but not for blond Norwegians
  • kitchen meant a two-burner camp stove on a counter that hit just above my thighs, a doll-house sized fridge, and no oven
  • the shower was a concrete reservoir with a dip-pour bucket that also served to dump water into the toilet bowl to flush it
  • earth tremors were uncomfortable – earth quakes left my nervous system on high alert for days

Over time I built a house with a real shower, flushing toilet, and a state-of-the-art-kitchen, Bali style. (Still no oven.) I found a hair color that worked. Cosmetics – not yet. My body acclimated to the heat and I learned to appreciate the months of rain in ways I had never embraced snow.

The absence of an oven significantly reduced the need to stock certain ingredients. But baking soda has a multitude of uses beyond its leavening properties, so every few months I cruised the grocery aisles searching for the familiar box.

baking soda

Nada.

The day I found it was the day after I’d eaten a heaping plate of too spicy, too greasy, mei goreng.

mie goreng

 

My stomach revolted. If only I had bicarbonate of soda! The two-mile walk to the grocery store wouldn’t hurt my condition so I set out with singleness of purpose. Once there, I made a bee-line to the area that stocked flour, sugar, salt, seasonings, and spices. The unusual packaging and foreign names of things had become familiar but a sudden revelation dawned. Maybe, just maybe, I should look for something other than the orange box.

 

 

Seconds later, in a wire bin in the dark corner of a bottom shelf, I found it.

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Soda Kue – 3,450 rph = 25 cents. The package was minuscule – a little larger than an egg.

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No doubt it had been there all along. If I hadn’t been fixated on the orange box, I could have been enjoying the many uses of that simple white powder for years!

As I walked home, I wondered how many other things had escaped me because I was locked into images from the past. How often had I predetermined what an outcome should look like and closed myself to the magic of discovering something new? The more I thought about it, the danger of defaulting to unconscious settings became clear. If I wasn’t paying attention they’d kick in automatically, and hinder the potential for surprise in my life.

I got home, stirred up a glass of water with soda, and drank it down. Ugh! Same disgusting taste. But the gurgling and belching that ensued brought instant relief.

Awareness is tricky. It runs counter to old programming, and challenges core beliefs. It’s easier to remain in the realm of the unconscious, thinking how we’ve always thought and doing what we’ve always done the way we’ve always done it. But I want more than that from life, and now when I catch myself assuming I know what I’m looking for I hit the pause button, and run it through the Baking Soda Test.

 

 

 

 

 

A Downward Dog View of Yoga

The ex-pats in Ubud have an uneasy relationship with the yoga crowd that floods the streets with nubile bodies in leggings and sports bras. There are good reasons for this. I’m guessing that the median age of the ex-pat population here approaches 70 so maybe there’s just a speck…a smattering…of jealousy? But to give them credit, these people did not grow up in the era of self-discovery with the influx of mystical influences from the East. Even some of the younger ones roll their eyes and avoid organic and raw food restaurants known to cater to the heightened awareness  crowd.

So this morning when I opened an e-mail from my sister in Northern Minnesota, and read a poem she wrote recently, I knew I had to post it for two reasons: first, she’s a great poet and has published her work in a book, Musings of a Damsel, Reflections of a Crone (click the link to see more), and second, because it’s so true and I knew if I could relate then many others would too.

My Inner Eye
by Gwen Lee Hall (pen name: Wendolyn Lee)

My friend is into yoga; she practices faithfully.
She tells me it’s done her a world of good, and it would be good for me.

I resist, but she has an answer for every excuse I know.
Yoga can take me places I never dreamed I’d go.

It will open my breath, open my mind, teach my soul to fly.
I’ll see things I’ve never seen before when I open my inner eye.

And so I cave. I buy the mat. I learn a pose or two,
And sure enough, the part about my inner eye is true!

Downward Dog on the livingroom floor, I see popcorn under the chair,
Dust bunnies under the sofa, wads of puppy hair…

So today I’m getting my exercise with a dustpan and a broom,
Seeing things I’ve never seen, right here in my livingroom.

Thank you my friend; I now include yoga in my routine.
My inner eye gets a workout, and my livingroom is clean.

Aging-growing up fast in reverse!

Remember when you were a baby and you ate and slept and grew at a phenomenal rate? Of course not. Babies don’t have a huge measure of self-awareness. That kind of consciousness doesn’t begin until around age 2 or 3, and then it’s on a very elementary level.

But by the time you’re in your twenties, you’ve developed a sense of what you look like that doesn’t change significantly for many years. Weight gain and hair color modifications aside, the years from 20 – 40 hold few surprises.

Then the fifties. For women, menopause wreaks mild to acute havoc usually sometime during that decade. But again, it’s mostly an inner change with slowly diminishing estrogen levels causing insomnia, sweats, flashes, and mood swings that make an otherwise sane person wildly neurotic. But it passes, and with the exception of a few wrinkles around the eye-corners, smile lines, maybe the beginnings of arthritis here and there, you’re still the same package.

Of course your genetic inheritance and the way you’ve treated your body to healthy or unhealthy habits, weighs in significantly. But I’m generalizing and drawing upon my own experience so feel free to adjust this information accordingly.

The sixties are different. It’s the growth process in reverse. But unlike the baby that has no knowledge of the sweeping changes in its own appearance, the mature adult not only sees and understands what is happening, but also has to deal emotionally with the loss of youth, vitality, and power.

I am appalled at the speed of change. Tomorrow I turn 64. Only one year ago my skin was still elastic, though a little crinkly at the knees. About six months ago while engaged in an inversion pose, I noticed disturbing sagginess in the skin around my upper arms. It disappeared when I righted myself and I made a mental note to do inversions only in private. A month later I couldn’t deny that the sagginess existed even when I stood upright.

Yesterday I took a long, honest look at myself. How can a heart that feels so young, occupy a body that looks so…mature?! Nothing prepared me for this transition. I’ve watched my parents age, but they’re my parents.

Mom and Dad

Mom and Dad

In some corner of my mind I knew that I was seeing my future, but it was far, far away. I tucked that thought in a safe place and forgot about it. Now it’s staring me in the face every time I look in the mirror. I am mentally trying to assimilate these physical changes, but it’s daunting. They’re happening so fast.

I take comfort in things I’m glad about. I’m glad I’m living my dream. I’m glad I’m in a country where old age is honored. I’m extremely grateful for excellent health and a strong body. Those things make it easier. But I remember the title of a book I saw once. I laughed then, but I’m not laughing now. It was called, The Girls with the Grandmother Faces. That’s it in a nutshell. Inside I’m still a teenager. Somehow I skipped adulthood and went straight to old. How does this happen?

From here on, it’s the inner work that matters. Actually, it’s always the inner work that matters. But in the culture of the West, youth and beauty equal power. As I attempt to come to terms with aging, I am engaged in the struggle for power. What makes me significant now? Where is my worth?

It occurs to me that youth and beauty are a hindrance. Anyone so blessed doesn’t need to develop a stunning  inner core since the outer is so compelling. This time of life is an opportunity to allow the richness inside to radiate outward. It’s a call to share the wisdom of a lifetime of good and bad choices with those who care to listen. And it’s a chance to become beautiful in a way that time can’t touch. Right! Happy birthday to me!

64...bring it on!

64…bring it on!

Battling the Terrors

My past frightens me. It is a long, arduous trek through unconsciousness. So much of it seems to have happened to someone else. In all fairness, I should have been institutionalized long ago. I should have cracked. But I was lucky. I perfected a serene, composed exterior. No matter what kind of hell was breaking loose just below the surface, it was my secret. No one ever knew, no one but me.

I rarely tell my life story. When I do, people are aghast. Some refuse to believe me. Some are awed. But all listen unaware of their gaping jaws. The things that are easy to reveal, the five marriages and five divorces, are startling enough without getting into the more disturbing details. “You seem so normal,” they say. I smile, serenely, “I am,” I reply.

Trauma remains in the body. No matter how good a person is at coping with life and covering up the scars, trauma lurks in cell memory. It can manifest as depression, panic attacks, or hundreds of other psychological disorders that keep therapists in business. There were times when the roar of terror and hopelessness in my ears threatened to tear me apart. But I have always seen myself as a happy person. Terror and hopelessness are unacceptable to my self-image. Writing became my salvation. I could scream the outrage into poetry or prose, pound it out on the keyboard turning the insanity into something manageable. But ‘manageable’ was merely survival. I needed to believe there was more to life than that.

Then three things happened almost simultaneously. I began doing Qigong meditation. It quieted and focused my mind. I developed a way of writing that took me behind the scenes in my psyche. I learned my truth. And I made yoga a daily practice. Yoga opened my heart. I’ll never forget the moment I first saw myself with compassion. I felt an outpouring of love for the brave soul who had  willed herself through life, raised three daughters, owned businesses, worked so very hard to be perfect while neatly, in quietly civilized fashion, battled the terrors within. I made a commitment that day to her. It was a promise to pursue the joyous journey no matter what. It was an intention let loose in the universe. I had no idea what metaphysical magic I had put in motion.

But any of you who have been following my blog have an inkling of the results of that promise. I have achieved what few are able to in this lifetime, bliss, in giant portions. I live in a place that nurtures and supports my journey. And the terrors? They are being squeezed out. I love the Leonard Cohen lyrics, “there’s a crack, a crack, in everything…that’s how the light gets in…” My tightly held perfection has cracked wide open and light is pouring in. Natural light. Healthy light. And when the little terrors poke their ugly heads out, they’re zapped!

 

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