Leap

“What if I fall?
but oh, my darling…what if you fly?” – Erin Hanson

When did you stop dancing?

 I once asked Baryshnikov how he leaped, so high and so free. How he broke the chains of gravity.

He said (and it’s the only thing he’s ever said to me, so listen up:) “When I leap, I do not think about the ground.”

So today in crossfit I had a crazy experience.

This was coming on the heels of an emotional drive there, in which I gave myself a pep talk. “It’s time for you to stop hiding,” I decided. “You thought it served you. It doesn’t. You put on weight, you slouched, you did everything you could in order to hide. You thought it would make you safe; that people wouldn’t look at you, then.
But safety isn’t going to help you rise. You’ve got to leave it behind now. Time to hold your head up. Expand. You’re afraid the scary men will come for you if you shine too brightly, aren’t you. Let them- you are strong now. You can defend yourself.”

There’s this thing called box jump. It seems a bit silly and not very difficult – you just jump onto a box. that’s it. with both feet at the same time. I couldn’t do it – I could do one foot at a time. I’d go as fast as possible; I’d alternate legs – I made it challenging for myself to make up for the fact that I was too afraid to take both feet off the ground at once.

 Now – I can jump rope, and I can do it fast. Both feet at once. But I can’t go very high, or so I told myself, which kept me from progressing to more advanced moves…

 today, my trainer Aaron Anderson said : try with both feet.

I said no, Aaron, this is a mental thing. I truly can’t .

 He said, okay, so just stack two weights on the ground. Start low. do it with both feet.

 So I did …

and I encountered a young me who used to fly. She was a dancer. She broke the chains of gravity and she really flew. She was proud of her leaps… I had forgotten all about her, and how those moments off the ground felt like the reason I was living. How flying became an obsession. How, in my pre-Juilliard days, my joy, my reason for living, was dance. I felt my spirit unleashed when I danced – I felt set free.

 and then, I fell.

It’s not the falling that is the hard part. injuries heal, though my knee will never be the same …

it’s the fear that stays with you.

 I was in a show – I had to dance, something I had choreographed myself, on a little walkway that was built around a live orchestra. The audience and orchestra were below me – and they seemed so FAR below me… and I fell one night.

 It wasn’t a big deal. After that, I was more careful. But something happened …

 I apparently wrote stories in order to protect myself.

 “you are too heavy.”

“you are a more earthy dancer. Do modern, Stick to the ground.”
“you have big, strong legs. You weren’t made lightly – you weren’t made to fly.”

 Now I know what it was that came up and choked me, when I spoke to Baryshnikov.

 That longing came up again today. So silly – so small…. jumping on to a stack of weights, and jumping off again.

 Every single jump (there were about 150 total, then I added another weight and did more)

 I was terrified. Paralyzed. Legs shaking.

 I was sobbing in crossfit; I could hear myself over the music, my breathing fast, panting like a terrified little girl.

 I kept going.

 This is a small thing….but each jump, I was taking that little girl by the hand and asking her to choose.

 Leave the ground.

Leave the ground.

Don’t think about falling.

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photo by Mark Edward Lewis

IT’s not the falling itself or the injuries – it’s the feeling of terror that shocks through your entire body when you feel the unknown, the loss of control. Unsure where you’ll land or what will happen next.

 That blind panic has kept me grounded for so many years. In trying to protect myself from ever feeling that fear again, I was actually living inside it. I was knee-locked, grounded, weighted down, my wings clipped, never to feel the joy of reaching as high as I could again…

 I had thrown stones at my own mockingbird, and I had killed her with the relentless weight of my fear.

 So, here’s the thing: a big step can look ridiculous to anyone on the outside. Those weights looked like nothing. People thought I was injured; they were kind –

They didn’t know I was forcing myself through the scariest thing I have experienced in years.

 But I did it.

 It doesn’t matter how low that leap was. I did it, over and over until the little girl inside me released her stranglehold on the ground.

 Leap. Leap. Do not think about the ground.

 We are not here in this life to be as safe and comfortable as possible until the day we die.

 Leap. For your dreams, for your crazy desire to feel free of this earth for one moment, for the thing your heart yearns for that comes up in your throat and chokes you with tears when you try to speak it aloud —

 Leap.

 And do not think about the ground.

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Power of a Word

(*note: if you use this facebook app thingy, after you’re done, go right away into settings – apps – and delete it, because apparently it accesses a ridiculous amount of information.)

I did that Facebook word collage thing. My most used word was “love.” It’s a pretty nifty way to check in with the “word of the year” one-word new year resolution.

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Yes. 2015 has been about love. Finding out what love is. Learning what love feels like (dear wounded young-me: it doesn’t feel unsafe. It doesn’t feel like longing. It doesn’t feel like lack or pity or regret. It doesn’t feel like fear and danger, scrambling to prove your worth, make up for someone else’s accusations and blame. It doesn’t feel like lack or  inadequacy. You only thought it did, so you found, allowed, and created those things. Love feels like safety, peace and growing. Love feels rooted in honor. Love feels like questions and risking only in that it might be time to shift the status quo, It might be time to leap and listen to someone else’s perspective. Love feels like respect – for one’s self and one’s own needs and boundaries, and for the other and their needs and boundaries. Love feels like home. Love isn’t the games you thought you had to play in order to be interesting, or the manipulations and power plays that left you so confused, shaking and dizzy.  Love feels intrinsically interesting in simply being authentic with another, and learning their true self. Love feels like trust – and when the Demons of fear come up to tell you to distrust, love feels like completely knowing those are just fear and damage voices from your own past. Of your own creation. Love feels like being trusted, and holding your head up with shining heart, knowing your lover believes in you – love feels like choosing actions that show love and gratitude for his belief in you. love feels like abundance. Love feels like an energy flow of giving and receiving, not hanging on and holding back. Love feels like loving yourself, nurturing the relationship entity, and loving him are all in harmony and a constant flow.)

I’m so grateful to the counselors, healers, teachers, hard work, and examples in life who all helped me see completion of that particular broken place, that Groundhog Day lesson on endless repeat. Over. Finally.  2015, thank you for realizing my one-word intention in life. I taught myself how love feels through the long, slow and difficult process of becoming whole. Of loving this flawed being that I am – as I am.

look- I’m not perfect in this. I’m still struggling with the idea that I can be beautiful to him even though I’m not blonde and tall. I still struggle with perfectionism and fear. I always will, because I am human. The difference is, I am now safe to know I’ll be true to myself  I’ll walk away from anyone who tries to crumble my self-worth by telling me I’m not honorable and not trustworthy. I’ll walk away from anyone who tries to tell me I deserve unkindness and lack-mentality living. I love my life and myself enough to let go of anything that dims my light  and doesn’t appreciate my heart.

When the self-talk becomes kinder and more compassionate, what we accept and allow in our lives shifts, too.

This is how to make room for love. Teach ourselves how love feels by having the courage to practice love-in-action.

2016: I’d like to see love still infusing the collage, of course; it’s a garden that needs watering, and it’s a joy to nurture. I’d like the central word to be: writing. Completion. It’s time to see my novels, my babies finally born. I’ve worked on them so long. Time to laser focus. Love makes this possible – it’s a solid foundation from which to build. Success will be what form it needs to take. I don’t know what it looks like, but I know what it feels like: completion.

What will your collage look like in 2016? What is your central word intention?

Apparently, we don’t have to know how to do it, or what it will look like. We just have to set the intention and leap.
Loving and living into it : now. Today.

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Hope Farm

“Fall has arrived at Hope Farm…”

With these words, something rises in my spirit, just a little. There’s a glimmer like the reflection in a pond of a leaf shifting, caught just in the corner of my eye. Barely noticeable, except that my stillness in this moment is so profound, any shift is enormous.

If I move, will I break, shatter, be consumed with rage or grief or both?

No. I will not break. I have been there before, and this is not like that. This is sadness, yes, but it’s also the deep serene knowledge that I made the right choice.

When I consciously set out to heal, to learn to love myself; when I began to speak up, I also began a relationship.
During that relationship, I kept learning, growing, fighting the old shadows – and he was with me, though he didn’t always understand – he stuck with me. He allowed.
But the growth itself caused it to become apparent that there was a dynamic in our relationship that served neither of us.
It’s so ironic and so horribly sad that the growth itself that I did with him – the lessons his presence in my life sparked – those very lessons meant that eventually this had to end.

I have grown to see that the love I want has to begin with me – that the healing I have to do in order to call that love into my life is healing I have to do alone now.

It is a truth that we will accept harshness from others only equal to that we give ourselves. When the self-talk changes, the level of acceptance changes, too. This is the work, now – having the quiet strength to lovingly say no. No, I will not accept unkindness.

One day what I envision is this: a love that is solid, rooted in honor. Honorable behavior toward the world and toward each other. Trust. There will be no distrust from the beginning – that shattering wondering if my computer was searched or wondering why he’s hiding his phone … there will be no explaining old relationships or constant defending. There will be no asking who he was with- that simply will not exist because Honor will be the foundation of both of our intended energy in this life, a shared core value.

Further, arguments will be in order to reach understanding. They won’t be unpredictable storms out of nowhere with the object to quickly wound – wound first! – they won’t be power struggles or fear-based manipulations. They will be arguments with a solid foundation of knowing we love, knowing we are committed to continuing to nurture a relationship – arguments with the knowledge underneath -always the knowledge – that we love and therefore will not want to say things to hurt. There will be a kind of sparkly glue that holds us together. There will be no question of leaving, no fear of continued harm or deprivation causing doubt; no constant tests. That un-pin-downable, indefinable thing that is enduring, patient, joyful, trust-based, nurtured love.
There will be celebrations of each other’s strengths. Honoring and lifting up the good things- That is what I intend for my future relationship.

I don’t know how it will come about, but I am learning that when I set an intention I must let go of the “how.”  “How” seeks to control— and it limits.  If I let go of the knowing, if I let go of the worry of HOW I will meet this future person, I can focus on nurturing this intention. I can knit up my ragged edges with a lot of self-compassion, I can take responsibility for the ways in which I made choices that weren’t great, or caused harm; I can own my part of things and learn how to do better, and I can love myself as a person who is owning her sh*t and truly growing.

After a breakup, however it happens, the ego can get very loud and hungry. It screams at us to blame the other person – to list the ways in which they were wrong, the times they hurt us, the cruel things they said- it will even urge us to twist things around so that we might still appear in the right, no matter what! Memory shifts solidly in our favor – when in truth, everyone remembers things differently – our memories are not real. They only exist in our own minds and can transform, like the refocusing of a lens shifts a photograph. The problem is, if we give in to that, we put ourselves in the “victim” chair.  “That person did this, and this and this! and said this!” then we are in a place of reaction and anger, telling over the old perceived harms like toxic, poisonous little thorny rosary beads.  Each time we go over the cycle of harmful thought, the ego is fed but it wants more; the ego has a bottomless hunger. It makes things worse. If we look for “evidence,” whether for good perceptions or bad, we can always find it.
IN reaction, there is no empowerment.  We are at the mercy of others’ actions and choices – we are basically saying that we did nothing, could do nothing.

In a place of pain, it can feel like the right choice; it can FEEL like self-empowerment to say “I was right, he was wrong.” but if we listen to the ego and actually are tempted to think it’s showing us the “truth,” we are in for a painful road ahead and a longer time spent healing. Some people actually never really heal.

So: here’s a way to find out whether it’s true or not: simply check to see how it feels.
When I am in hurt and anger, remembering perceived harms, I feel small, tense, ready to spring; my stomach hurts, I cannot rest – there is no peace, I feel sick, and my energy drains away.

When I move away from that, distance from the ego and away from focus on whatever anyone else did, and when I focus on my own choices, I feel expanded, powerful, serene, peaceful. Even in the sorrow of loss, of endings, of breaking up — the wish that it didn’t have to be this way — the undeniable longing that somehow I could stay – there is still a kind of peace. We can choose this at any time! We can breathe, tell the ego, “Thanks, but this isn’t helping me,” and re-focus the lens. Refocus the lens to the beautiful memories, or the times in which we felt held and loved. Refocus the lens toward gratitude for those times, and the knowledge that by struggling through the hard things, by engaging in the discipline of saying “no” to toxic things, we are moving TOWARD, not away from, that beautiful feeling of wholeness, peace, love, happiness.

When I focus on the good, on love and continuing with compassion for both myself and him, I feel healthy. The energy returns.

Thus in a “growth” mindset rather than a “fixed” one, the mistakes are not things to hide from or fear to face: they are enormous, beautiful opportunities for growth and learning.

I believe we are here to grow, so I do much of my learning “out loud” in the world these days…it is my gift to my fellow humans.  Look – I have flaws, lots of them. If I can show the process of seeing them, having compassion for myself within that, owning them, learning from them and moving forward,
maybe then I can help others have self- compassion too. I think this is where much of our healing as a society will begin.

We are here to learn. I am grateful for the opportunity to do so. I am grateful for this relationship, for the companion who held up a mirror and showed me my ego, so i could do battle with it. Ultimately, it does not matter what he did or chose, or whether he can take responsibility or seeks to blame… that is his lesson to either learn or encounter again. That is where the healing comes in. In the distance from someone else and what they choose; the letting go.

I am grateful that I have grown so much in self-love and loving self-talk that my “limit” has raised – that I will no longer tolerate certain energies in my life, but will, with loving compassion, release and build a strong protective wall around my life.

I used to think that being loving meant allowing all – Chesed (in Jewish mysticism, one of the sefirot, a kind of holy chakra) – lovingkindness —
but Chesed must be balanced with, on the other side, Gevurah – discipline/strength.

sefirot

This was always my struggle.  I was never able to say a loving “No.”  No, I do not accept that kind of talk toward me. No, I do not accept this kind of arguing for the sake of wounding. No. I love you, but no – this is not the way I intend to spend my life.

And so, with a loving “No,” we both are lifted up, though we cannot maybe see it yet past the pain of change and loss.  My dear friend and companion – so much laughter. Incomparably beautiful times under the stars, the trees, seeing the magic in the world – on a beach sparkling in the moonlight –
painfully, I give us both this gift. with gratitude, I let go.

HopeFarm

this is a real farm, and it’s really called Hope Farm. with thanks to Rebecca Larken

Fall has arrived at Hope Farm. The trees magnificently blaze as they begin to let go… the chlorophyll that masked their true colors has drawn inward, revealing the rich hues of gold, amber, crimson – and so, may drawing inward for a time of healing allow each of our true colors to blaze forth as we release what no longer serves us.
There will follow a time of emptiness – barren branches –

and then: Spring.  Spring will come softly in to Hope Farm, and she will bloom as she has never bloomed, abundant and joyful with fragrant blossoms.

Parting in gratitude now for the loveliness that was you in my life, making space, examining my own stuff, drawing inward, releasing the past, and sitting bravely with the emptiness in prepation for the glorious, rioting Spring.

Anger: Four Steps to Release and Heal

Anger. What is it, why does it happen, and what is the healthiest way to deal with it?

These questions have been coming up as I have carried anger for the past three days. That doesn’t feel good in my body or heart, so I decided to really examine what was happening.

I came up with these key things: four ways to diffuse and heal the anger.

 

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1) Name it.

What am I REALLY feeling? Anger is a secondary emotion – there will be something underneath it.  So go through, list the things you feel out loud. “I feel angry because ________.”  Keep going until you run out of reasons. Then, dig deeper.
“I feel minimized because _________.”
“I feel used because _________.”
“I feel threatened because _________.”
“I feel betrayed because _________”
“I feel afraid because _______”  whatever comes up, name it.  For each one, list reasons until you run out of things to say. Let yourself cry if you need to. purge it.

When you have done this, sit silently with your heart and give yourself love. Give yourself approval. Remind yourself that you are safe. No one can harm you or detract from you without your permission.

 

2) Reach Out.

Connect with other people who remind you how loved and how incredible you are – not necessarily with words, but simply with the way they are happy to be around you.

When we interact with others, the way we relate to them is a reflection of ourselves. We are creatures who project — and that’s why if we find ourselves continually saying negative things about others, if certain words/phrases keep repeating/patterns keep repeating with every relationship, it’s time to examine ourselves. For example, if people say their ex is “crazy,” (they’re likely to say that about all of them), it’s time to take a hard look at their own issues. Or If we are continually suspicious of others, it’s time to do some counseling to heal whatever it is in us that is living in a lack / fear of loss mentality.

So : go interact with the people you have good things to say about. The people you love. The people who make your heart smile. The people who know, love, and bring out the best you.

3) Take Personal Responsibility.

After a time, if the anger cycles and re-cycles, it’s time to examine what it’s trying to tell you. Anger is a signal. I was told once by an incredibly brilliant person that “Anger is a sign that we need more self-care.”
It can also be a signal that our boundaries have been crossed in some way. It can be a signal that we aren’t being true to ourselves.

In my case, I betrayed myself in a huge way. I kept silent. I fell into old people-pleasing behavior and did not speak what I wanted or what I didn’t want; I didn’t speak what I was feeling — I did something that was NOT o.k. with me in that moment.
It was a very horrible, difficult experience, and the rage aftermath was nearly crippling.   Apparently I have healed so much that my subconscious is telling me in no uncertain terms, it is NOT ok with self-betrayal anymore.

This anger is mine, I own it, it belongs to me.  When you say that, you stop putting it on others. You stop saying “He did ….x,y,z” and listing the actions and circumstances that triggered you into reaction, that were a catalyst for the anger response. We can waste years of life if we continually justify our anger with someone else’s actions — because the focus will always be on something we cannot control. We will be in reaction, telling the harmful actions and choices over like rosary beads, re-opening the wound and reacting again as though it just happened. The stress hormones will flood the body anew. I can feel them come up even now, if I play over in my head the circumstances that led to my anger.  This is not healthy for the body or soul,  and it keeps us stuck. Stuck in old circumstances that no longer exist (the past does not exist except in our own head, since everyone’s experience of a moment is different!) stuck in reaction, basically — it keeps us a victim.

So. Owning the anger is an empowering thing.  I KNOW people can do absolutely horrible things, and depending on the degree of the harm, there may need to be years of processing anger. This is a healing step.  But once the healing has occurred and enough time has passed, there is a time to own it all, take responsibility for our emotions, and know that we can make choices.  We can’t choose what others do. Sometimes we are truly helpless and someone else’s behavior is deeply violating. What we can choose is how we heal, how we walk forward, how we honor ourselves – how we talk to ourselves from that moment on. We don’t have to take any responsibility for what someone else chooses to do – if they treat us badly, we don’t have to choose to say “They treated me badly because something in me is not worthy of respect,” or “I invited that,” or any other variation of taking blame for someone else’s shitty behavior. No…what we can instead choose is “I love myself/I am incredible/ if they can’t see it, their problem,” and so on. This is owning our anger, owning our response, and knowing that we deserve better and can walk away faster next time.

I uncovered that the person I was truly angry with was myself. I was livid with myself for staying silent, for freezing and complying, falling into a very long-ago established abused-victim behavior. I was furious with myself for being afraid to speak up. Underneath that, I was deadly afraid. If I had betrayed myself again, when would it stop? When would I finally learn my own worth, stop caring so much what others think, and SPEAK UP when something wasn’t ok with me, or when a boundary had been crossed?

This was a harmless, innocent situation, (albeit thoughtless and rude-) and yet the old harms came up due to a chance dynamic.  What, I wondered, would teach me to believe in myself and know that I was valuable and speak UP?

The answer is : the anger. The anger is teaching me. The anger is there TO teach me. I just had to stop ratcheting around the room like a burning ping-pong ball, and create stillness. I had to stop running from the anger, I had to stop reaching out to try to communicate with the person I had been angry with, I had to look within and tell it, “Ok, anger, I am listening.”

Every human being is going to experience anger. If we could stop putting shame and fear around it and start listening to what it’s trying to tell us, we might all be healthier with it.  Anger in itself is not a bad thing. It’s natural and it’s vital to our survival. What is important is how we use it – if we can create some stillness and listen to it, if our subconscious feels heard and honored, it won’t try so VERY hard to get our attention.

 

 

4) Self Care.

Now it’s time to remind ourselves that we are loved — and that we are accepted and whole just as we are, anger and all. When something happens that triggers anger, there is a great vulnerability afterward, and the self-esteem will take a big dip.
We  need to feel some solidarity and safety, and the awesome thing is, we don’t need anyone else to give that. We always have that available, because we can give it to ourselves!
A good start to rebuilding self-esteem and feelings of security & being loved is to do some self-care practices.  Cook a healthy, delicious meal, or take yourself out on a date! Take a bubble bath, or do some self-massage with oils or scents that soothe you. Take a walk in beautiful surroundings. Write a gratitude list, and really ask your heart to feel the goodness of these things in your life. Exercise – do something that isn’t a punishing chore, but fun and playful! Something you enjoy. Write yourself notes about why you are awesome. Write affirmations (short and sweet!) and say them to yourself while meditating, or while taking a walk.

Do the things that empower you, do the things that make you feel most YOU.

If we feel empowered and safe, we will experience less anger. If we feel loved, we will experience less anger. The constant work is to give these things to ourselves.

I wish everyone healing in this continual process… I know I feel a lot better 🙂

One or Three Ways to Get Over Yourself (and other people): On becoming a Maggid

I found a very very silly story for the Maggid concert. I spent a few days brushing it aside, cutting it down, making fun of it…and still it hung around. I’d swing at it and it would bob away, only to come fluttering back like a gentle, idiotically persistent moth.

It’s a very silly story.

Just today while I was boxing, sweating out some frustrations and some chattering mind-gremlins, the story grew fangs. It grew arms laced into hard little boxing gloves. It hit me. It bit me. It gave me the reason I was telling it… and I had to stop, breath coming hard, and drop into some pushups and laugh. Okay, and maybe cry a little.

So. this is being a Maggid.  Wait – is this being a Maggid? It’s like I am my own court jester. A part of my mind sees my struggle (maybe a struggle I haven’t even admitted to myself yet), comes up with an analysis, sees past it to the heart of the matter, puts on a motley cap and bells and THEN- and only then- brings a story to my attention; but it doesn’t explain it. It just gives me the story so I can (maybe) figure out my own sh*t. Then it hands me the cap with bells and tells me, “Wear this, dance around, tell a story and stop being an idiot.” Also, it reminds me I don’t have to battle other people’s opinions of me..because other people’s opinions are reflections of themselves. (It usually says this while holding up a very useful fun house mirror.) 
It says other people’s actions and choices have nothing to do with me, and everything to do with themselves.
It says my own actions and choices have nothing to do with other people, so I’d best own the choices I make, (and love them, or make better choices) because those actions are reflections of who I am.

It says we can change the reflection at any time, but only when we realize that no one else is responsible for it.

Awesome.

If I were writing a Mind Body Green article right now, it would be called “5 steps to realizing that other people’s dumb behavior is not about you, and your dumb behavior is not about other people.” (because apparently more people read things if they have numbered steps.)  

 

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Ha Makom (the Place),OR Gladiator and Lion

The way others treat you is not a reflection of you; it is a reflection of them.

These are tough words to remember sometimes.

In Judaism, we have 72 different names of God.  I like to explain it like this: our human minds are too small to hold, all at once, in tangible form, the concept of God as everything inside and out. So these names are different images we can hold in our minds, to work on one aspect of God at a time, depending on what we need at that moment. Ha Makom is one of these names; it means simply “The Place.” If God is in the place where I am standing, if I am aware of that with every breath, would I treat others differently? If others thought more about “Ha Makom,” would they make a different choice?

It’s been almost a year since he left: the very persuasive, persistent, deceitful, adorable, wonderful-but-awful, manipulative, completely self-absorbed, gentle, sweet, complicated and fascinating must-have-his-way man who was like a tsunami in my heart and life. Almost a year; I have been fighting a really tough battle to heal the post traumatic stress disorder that his abrupt departure caused…

a year in which there have been people who felt they needed to be cruel.  On top of the pain and confusion of his illness and leaving; on top of the deep psychic wounds that left my body shaking every day, shaking like I had an earthquake inside, for over six months.

It’s hard to describe the experience of ptsd.  It is humbling. You think you are fine – you go to pick up your coffee in a staff meeting and your hand is shaking so violently, you immediately snatch it back and hide it in your lap, clench it with the other hand, try to calm your breath.  There is a shaking inside, which (ironically enough) was my love’s burden daily as well from his own illness.

This shaking was a daily reminder of him.

So were the tears that would come without warning. I began to call them “Miriam’s Well,” a well I would carry with me everywhere – I began to see them as a healing mikveh, (ritual bath) so I could step away from the secondary emotions that came along with them: shame, fear, despair of ever healing and being whole again.

Once I distanced from/ simply observed my reactions to the symptoms, that is when the healing began, very gradually. I wasn’t judging myself any more- my Self was grateful for that small mercy.

But I was still under attack both from people I used to think I knew, and people I didn’t know at all, but met with him on occasion after our “engagement.” People who were his friends.

He called me best friend, love of his life, his greatest teacher, his deepest blessing; he called me an angel, his wise raven, his beshert and his reason for living, and yet these friends of his had a hunger to tear me to pieces with their claws and teeth, one angry, vicious bite at a time.  I asked him to tell them our story, so they didn’t have to rely so much on their assumptions or on gossip – but he was a person who liked to hide. He did not like to talk about himself or share anything personal. I think that trait of his, his dishonesty and distrust of others, is what eventually led to the legacy he left me with: the lions in my gladiator’s arena.

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I was a broken thing, and I was under siege.

It’s a hard thing when you are not well, when you are grieving, and when you are asked to bear even more.

I never found out why these people decided they needed to be cruel.  For a long time, I kept asking myself “why?” “Why would a person try to actively harm someone who has so much grief and harm to bear already?”

I asked the questions over and over, until I learned that wasn’t a healthy way to live. There will never be answers to the question “why”.

Hypocrisy seemed to be everywhere I looked.

But then I learned to focus on the kind people; on my angels.  Thank God for them – the good people, the ones with integrity.  Because of them, my spirit did not break; because of them, I did not lose my faith.

I have healed now, and I am beginning to process this into a novel. I feel I have actually become even stronger and more whole than I was before I met him.  And yet these people are still carrying their hatred. It is a year since he’s been gone, and they actively pour their energy into showing me how much they hate.  I do not understand why, and it makes me sad for them.

I took a friend to see 42. It was such a lovely night with this person I have known for over a decade and haven’t seen in a long time; catching up over a small meal, going to the movie screening which felt old-fashioned somehow and really lovely; connecting with him was connecting with my old life, the innocent and happy life of theater… (incidentally, how very odd that the most I have ever experienced dysfunction, cruelty, hypocrisy and pain is inside the synagogue? Are artists just healthier because they express things and explore the shadow side all the time? Are people drawn to the synagogue in deeper need of healing, or are they more apt to hide and shame their shadow-selves? I am writing this here as a side-note to think about later.)

All was really lovely and sweet: The popcorn, the joking of the audience, the speeches beforehand and the haimish feeling that abounded.

And then afterward, there was a nasty little thing that threatened to put a damper on the whole lovely night (if I let my mind dwell on it, which I did not):

the man glaring…actively, malevolently. This person I used to know. This person about whom people have said “he wouldn’t behave that way. You might be reading into it.”

(Really? How many times can someone scowl, glare, and look at you as though they are seeing a murderer, before it’s not “all in your head”?)

his wife in the bathroom, stuttering out “I have to go,” and ending her conversation quickly so she could get out  after I walk in.  These were people I used to know and be very friendly with.

Myself, defiantly, angrily, putting on lipstick and looking into my own eyes in the mirror.

Eyes that had no tears, this time. Eyes that have seen enough unkindness, thank you very much.

There is no one on this earth I would treat the way these people are treating me.

I have done nothing to harm them or theirs…

That night their behavior did not break or harm me; it hurt, which developed into anger.

Anger and defiance.

I have been through enough.

But I refuse to carry the anger.  I am going to try to understand, because I refuse to be like them. I am struggling to find a spiritual way to encounter this kind of cruelty, and all I can think of is that somewhere in myself I have to find compassion. They are behaving this way out of some kind of pain, and that pain leads them to find an object to blame other than themselves. I am convenient; they don’t have to know me as a person, so they don’t have to worry about how their behavior might harm. They don’t have to be understanding or see anything from my point of view or care. If they are able to think of me as a thing, not a person, they can safely put a lot of cruel, nasty behavior on me and not even think twice about it.

What bugs me is this: these people go to the synagogue regularly, for more years than I have been alive. They do all the synagogue functions. HOW can they not have learned by now about compassion and loving kindness?

how?

All these years at the synagogue, and they see a young(ish) woman, 21 years younger than the man who pursued her, and they blame HER? and continue to do so a year later?

how?

Are the clergy not doing their job, or are the people not learning? How can Judaism address this … lack of bridge?

He used to talk about this, my ex-rabbi.  He said “It was my biggest struggle for 20 years.”  that people bring their synagogue-face in on saturday mornings, nod and smile and sigh about lovingkindness, forgiveness and compassion, and then step right outside even into the oneg (I had this happen to me) and turn around and yell at someone “You are not welcome here.” Many simply do not live their lives as though God is where they are standing at any time, all the time.
God, for them, seems to be received passively in a seat in a temple.

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How does one teach people that God is a verb?  That God is a way of walking in the world, and that this is why we have lessons come to us?  Things don’t “happen TO us,”  just to be reacted to and endured and then forgotten – every thing that unfolds in our lives is an invitation to be an active participant in the growth of our own souls. By examining, by learning, by making a different choice next time we have an opportunity to be either unkind or kind, thought-full or thought-less.

That person, incidentally, who yelled at me in the Temple — I would never treat him the way these people are treating me. The person who screamed at me and roughly grabbed my arm – I would stay away from him for safety’s sake, but I would never glare or actively seek to show him unkindness.

I searched my heart and found compassion for mental illness, psychic distress,  and pain.

SO.

The way others treat you is a reflection of them, and only of them.  You did not “earn” either kindness or unkindness.

The way you treat others is a reflection of you. You can improve that reflection at any time! We spend so long trying to improve the reflection we see in the mirror… we spend so much money and time on facial creams, blemish removal… what if we spent even a fraction of that time trying to improve the reflection of our soul in the way we treat others?

I wish I could teach this to the teens who are being bullied, who despair and want to end their precious lives as a way to escape.  I wish I could teach this to every person who ever felt the sting of someone else’s blaming, judging, or cruelty.

I was in Boston once, about to attend a summer session at rabbinical school; I had just arrived from a drive across the country and was exhausted. At that time, I wore my kippah all the time… there was a bus of young school kids pulling out of a parking lot.  This beautiful little African-American girl stuck her head out the window and yelled “Fucking JEW!”  She said “Jew” as though it were a curse.

It was a shock, but my compassion was immediate, because she was so young, her sweet face all twisted up.  I thought: is that face twisted up in pain? in agony, in anger? My immediate thought was, “Where did she learn that hatred?” and “How many names has she been called in school, that little one?”

What if my compassion could be that immediate with these people, even though they are not young?  Part of my anger-response comes, I think, because of their age (in their 70’s.)  I feel they should “know better.”  Well. That is my own judgment coming in.  If I were aware of “Ha Makom,” God being present in me in that moment, perhaps my compassion would come faster.

If I could, this is what I would teach those who bully – and I find as I write it that it is a lesson I need to teach myself, daily:

Ha Makom is a name for God meaning “The place.”  God is in the place where you are standing.  God is not to be found in a synagogue or church : God is where you are standing, sitting, waking, dreaming: all the time. (and yes, in Judaism we even have a blessing for after going to the toilet. That is holy too- the workings of the body are miraculous.)

Bring your shadow-self, bring your light, bring ALL of you to prayer or meditation, because it is only when you bring your entire being, that you will soften and learn compassion for yourself and others. If you hide the part of you that feels it has to glare with hatred at a young(ish) woman whose story you don’t know, you will not be acknowledging that part; it will be shoved down, hidden, and thus will never be softened.  Bring that, too.  Bring it to God – here and now! Ha Makom! – and say “Here it is. This is also me.”  Breathe into those dark places with compassion –and you will find God in those places.  Those dark places will soften with your acceptance, just as my healing began when I stopped shaming and judging my own tears and shaking body.  You will heal, then.

You will no longer need to be cruel any more.

I stand there wondering how to meet these pettinesses, these cruelties, with kindness…and I find that my response is coming out of MY shadow-self.  The self who says “how can you go to temple and behave like this?” the self that is judging. the self that is puritanical and preachy. The self, in fact, that is just like these people in that cruel moment. Just like them.

And I have to laugh.

This year has been my gladiator’s arena. I chose to stay here; I fought hard to stay. I chose to live my life in this place that was toxic, where I was treated like Hester Prynne and I so longed to be given a chance to speak my heart –

but I was never given a chance, because people do not want their scapegoat to have a voice.

They don’t want that tied up goat to have a story. They want it to be an object that can carry all of their darkness, so they don’t have to sit with it.

And living in this perfectly imperfect place, I was given so many lessons, so many tests.

I have learned so much.

Ha Makom – the place where I am standing, here is God. Here is my synagogue. If I take care of my own synagogue and make sure I am behaving in alignment with my core values, make sure I am acting in integrity, it doesn’t matter how other people choose to treat me, or what they choose to believe about me. I know my synagogue is a holy place, a beautiful place.

In my personal “temple” or “ha makom,” the place I am standing, I would never treat someone unkindly or glare at them or snub them; I simply don’t behave that way.  Now I am learning I can go one step further and not judge them for their behavior. I can take out the pain-response and simply breathe to myself “Ha Makom,” when they are cruel.   I am grateful for this arena in which I have learned to fight by not fighting: by simply growing larger in my heart and more compassionate.

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The gladiator can observe the lion, set down her weapon and focus on her own power to choose.