Get Out of the Bag — Setting yourself free involves both wisdom and passion–the willingness to experiment and friends to encourage you on the way.
Have you purchased my last book, Half Asleep in the Buddha Hall? If not, it would make an amazing Holiday Present!
Check out the white lettering: “Do not put child in bag” — this is the back end of a child carrier.
OK, so here we go on another tear through the examination of how we see and do life.
I’m a little sad, because I had the perfect photograph to illustrate where I’m coming from.
I was walking through the basement office area the other day, and looked at the window. It’s covered with a closed blind. I saw a face! The face of an alien! Sort of looked like like Bob Hope from the side, but with a huge cranium.
I took a photo, and just checked and I really overexposed it. Zut alors! The shadow on the blind was actually caused by a garbage can and the sun. I over exposed the picture of that, too.
But my point is that we often confront the boogeyman, and almost always, he’s a figment of our overripe imaginations. We get a thought in our heads, and heaven and earth, much less reality, cannot shake it.
We believe what we believe, and seldom with reason
Adele, checking things out!
I mentioned a couple of weeks ago how much I was enjoying this year’s season of “In Treatment.” I’m totally wrapped up in the sub-plot about Paul (the therapist/protagonist) and his developing relationship with his new therapist, Adele. Without giving too much away, Paul talks a good show, but has difficulty being open and vulneralbe in his personal life. He gets his clients to open up, but remains hidden himself.
A few weeks ago, he reported a dream where he was running by a fenced-in yard, and feeling excited. He then felt stuck and pulled down, looked around and saw his father (whom he blames for everything bad in his life…) rapidly approaching. Paul has recently decided that he has Parkinson’s, so he saw the dream as meaning that his father was genetically punishing him (again) from the grave.
Adele has not been so convinced.
This week, she made several wonderful leaps, all of which had to do with describing how Paul was holding himself back from experiencing joy or excitement, and then blaming his father. Paul, stuck in his stories, danced and weaved, and kept changing the subject.
Finally he sighed, and said something about being really seen and understood by Adele. (He often avoids her probes by complementing her.) She replied:
“I’d like to see you more clearly, but I find that you’re fairly expert at obscuring the view.”
This is such a good line.
We obscure the view in both directions, by hiding from ourselves (by choosing not to notice, or to excuse, what we are doing) and from others (by evading, closing down, blaming.)
The result is “shut-down-ness” and stuckness. There can be no other. We are living in our heads, running films (or seeing aliens on the window shades) and confusing our stories and movies with reality.
Reality, and excitement, and passion, come from suspending the bull-shit and story-telling long enough to have an actual experience. To engage with that which we scare ourselves over, in order to “see” how much is “real,” and how much is just us, scaring ourselves.
Here are two stories, about me as a kid and young adult, that play around with this idea.
Walking the Ledge, part one
Andrea, the beach,
and the Ledge
When I was a kid, I went to church camp once a year, for a week. The camp was right on Lake Erie. In the old days, people swam in the lake. A pool had been put in, for convenience and because even the alewives couldn’t live in Lake Erie in the late 50’s and early 60’s. The water was off limits for all but the hardiest, and the wooden stairs to the swimming area had been swept away in a storm. If you wanted down to the old bathing beach, you had to rock-climb down a 50 foot bluff.
You could, however, get to the main beach, which was a 10 minute walk as the crow flies from said swimming area. At the end of the beach was a bluff that stretched up 50 feet or so. (The picture shows the bluff towering over the ever smiling Andrea…) Right where the water hit the bluff was a Ledge, about 4 inches wide, and it’s pictured on the photo right blow the black stripe. A person could walk that Ledge, which was wet and slippery, and end up a half mile along at the old swimming area, where one could climb the bluff, and hop a fence, and return to the camp.
Needless to say, such behavior (which we called, obviously, “Walking the Ledge,) was frowned upon. That made it quite appealing to me. I guess I’ve always been a bit of a gung ho kind of guy, and I remember walking the Ledge the first time at about 8. After that, I did it all the time. Alone and in groups.
The key was to be prepared. (This is not about “stupid” risk taking, but wise risk-taking. I only walked the Ledge in bad weather a couple of times (see next story) and even then, it appears I survived.)
Preparation was both practical and mental. You had to have the right shoes. You had to wear a shirt, to keep from getting scratched on the bluff. And you had to have the right attitude.
The right attitude was: “It’s not how often you fall off of the Ledge and into the water. It’s how quickly you get back up and continue the walk.”
Falling off of the Ledge was a part of walking the Ledge. Sometimes you fell off a lot. Other times, the walk was pretty easy. If you fell in, the rule was to keep your mouth and nose shut (it was Lake Erie in the 60s, after all…) keep your head up, swim with the tide, and haul yourself back up.
If you only concerned yourself with falling off, you’d never start.
Falling off is a part of everyone’s life, if they try in the first place, as opposed to giving up before the thing begins. Getting back on after you fall off is the mark of a persistent hero.
Those who fall off and simply bob in the water, waiting for rescue, or who turn back too soon, gain nothing.
So that’s the first point. Here’s the other. You are known by the friends you keep.
To go back briefly to “In Treatment,” Adele describes Paul is being holed up in his office, his cave, unwilling to interact, at a deep level, with anyone. He hides behind his wisdom and compassion, and emphatically hides behind his stories.
It not only takes courage to strike out and take risks; it takes courage to be willing to receive friendship, intimacy, and sometimes, help. I can’t tell you how many people I know who are so invested in how “special” they appear that authenticity files out the window. Choosing openness and forming a bond, even if for a moment, is often the thing that gets us back on track.
The following story is a segue-way off of the first. I guess all I have to say is that I have always assumed I could do anything, and once in a while that leads in non-helpful directions. Even with something as simple as:
Walking the Ledge, part two
Sandy was one of my first girlfriends. We broke up when I went away to College. Then, I got married and divorced, all in 3 years and a bit. I stayed in Chicago during the school year, then returned to Buffalo for the summer. One Summer, I ran into Sandy at our Church picnic, held (where else) at our church camp … the one with the Ledge.
Sandy popped up next to me, in the swimming pool. Being the observant sort, I immediately grasped that
a) Sandy had long hair–well past her derriere– and
b) Sandy had blossomed, if you catch my drift. I was enamored all over again. (Darbella was just with a bunch of kids at “Footloose.” She mentioned that one of the cast members said, “There’s a party in my pants.” On that hot Summer day back in 1971… boy, oh boy, party!!!)
After much giggling and goofing around, we wandered down to the beach. Just before the romance had a chance to kindle, a bunch of our friends showed up. They wanted to walk the Ledge.
Normally, I led such expeditions. I, however, wanted to hang out with Sandy, so we volunteered to take the rear and rescue stragglers. As it turned out, this was a good thing, because a storm was blowing in across the lake, and the waves crashing over the Ledge and smashing on to the bluff were peaking at 3 feet.
Somebody decided to persuade a young woman to join us for her first Ledge walk. I was too transfixed by Sandy to think that one through. The “first timer” left with the group. Sandy and I started walking a few minutes later.
We came around the first bend to see a huge wave knock the young woman off her feet, toss her into the bluff and then drag her 20 feet out. I dove in and pulled her back onto the Ledge. She wanted to go on, but she was really scared. By the time she made it half way along the Ledge, she had been knocked off three more times, and each time I’d gone swimming and pulled her out. That was enough. She wanted to go back. I told Sandy to go on ahead … I’d take her back. The young woman was terrified of getting knocked off the Ledge, so we swam back, fighting the tide and waves. I saw her safely to the beach, dove back in and started swimming.
Except by this point I was beat. I was getting kicked around by the waves, swallowing water, and I was tired from hauling the young woman around. I kept going, driven by my hormones. I decided to get up and walk the Ledge. No sooner did I get to my feet than a huge wave knocked me back in. I went under, hit an undertow and when my head popped up, I was 50 feet out and heading for Canada.
I figured I was dead. And at that moment, a hand encircled my wrist. I was flipped onto my back, and Sandy towed me in. She’d waited for me.
And no, the relationship never went anywhere, but for that moment, I was glad we’d tried.
The key is to, as I put it sometimes, to “do it alone, in groups.” It’s why I’ve been glad for and grateful to, my Haven Friends. And especially to Dar.
Sometimes, my reach has exceeded my grasp and knowing that someone has my back is life-altering.
This week, have a look at what you’re avoiding, how you are shutting yourself down, and what you might do differently.
Then, examine the quality of your relationships. When considering a principal one, ask, “Do I trust this person unconditionally, with my secrets and my life?”
Keep pushing, with verve and with a speck of caution. Life is short, and waiting for it to arrive is simply and plainly silly.