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BESIEGED

Aren’t we all every day in every way?

As a child, I often felt besieged around my siblings. Surrounded, bombarded, and near constantly overwhelmed by the sheer number of us when gathered together. We were like a gaggle of geese fighting over chunks of bread around the dinner table every night, all clamoring to speak and talking over each other which meant none of us were ever really heard.

But for as full as our house always was, and for as fun as it usually was, at times I felt profound loneliness even when we were all together. It was a constant struggle to find a balance between wanting to be with everyone and wanting to be left alone.

The older I got, the more it felt like the walls were closing in.

The outside world began intruding on my inside world, and I was growing more and more uncomfortable with the idea of becoming an adult.

Despite that, or perhaps because of it, I became interested in politics at a very young age.

I was seven when Jimmy Carter was elected. He was the first president I remember ever paying attention to since he had a daughter around my age whose name was also Amy. I remember being fascinated by the whole family. Jimmy, the peanut farmer who seemed kind and modest and principled much like my father. Rosalynn, who I would later learn, wasn’t afraid to lend her voice in support of ratifying the ERA. But it was Amy, a regular kid just like me who happened to live in the White House, and had her own tree house there to boot, that really drew me in.

I was ten when I learned about the Iran hostage crisis in school and had my name and picture published in the local paper for writing letters to the hostages as a show of support to let them know that we as Americans, cared. But when Reagan was elected later that fall I was crushed. I couldn’t hold back the tears at recess the day after the election and had to retreat to the safety of the laboratory where I hid in a stall crying until I heard the bell ring calling us back inside.

I remained involved in politics throughout the rest of my formal education to present day, but by the age of thirteen, my focus shifted from the politicians in Washington to the politics of being female.

Once I “became a woman” it gradually dawned on me that I wasn’t the only one vying for control over my body. I started getting into heated arguments about abortion rights and equality  – or lack thereof – with trusted girlfriends and was graffitiing the covers of all my school books with the words, “who cares” and “nothing matters” and “why bother.”

By then I understood that regardless of how hard I worked I would never be treated as an equal when compared to a man. The signposts were everywhere and impossible to ignore. I felt besieged from every angle, so I did what I had learned by watching others, I started drinking.

At first, it was strictly for the thrill of it usually done on a dare. But it quickly became a slippery slope and a reliable means of escape. I was overwhelmed by the world on a daily basis and alcohol allowed me to still care while not caring at all. It was the best of both worlds when the world I found myself living in no longer felt tolerable anymore.

I have struggled off and on with that desired means of escape ever since. It was effortless not to drink each time I was pregnant; I wasn’t doing it for myself, I was doing it for them. But once they were born and the permanent demands of motherhood set in, it got more and more tempting at the end of a long hard day.

This feeling besieged all the time may very well be at the root of many addictions as a way to regulate stress. Whether we attempt to soothe ourselves with shopping or eating or any other myriad of ways we numb ourselves, it can stem from feeling so overwhelmed by the world that we’ll do anything to escape the pain.

There are days when I can’t bring myself to turn on the television because I am so world-weary. Our country has never been more divided (in my lifetime anyway) than it is right now.

I cried for three days straight when our current president was elected because I knew exactly what it meant. I knew what we had in store for us though sadly he has exceeded my dire expectations.

In many ways, I felt then and still feel now that we as a nation are in mourning. We worked so hard and had come so far under the leadership of President Obama that despite my everpresent concern for the health of the planet, I felt optimistic about our future and I was even more optimistic at the prospect of seeing what a woman could do to keep our momentum going.

Instead, every day we see more and more hard fought for accomplishments being stripped away. The planet itself is under siege, and despite intensifying natural disasters we are weakening our protection of it instead of fighting even harder to avert a crisis. We are bombarded by hatred and intolerance and injustice on a daily basis, not to mention twenty-four-hour news channels and social media which leave me feeling defeated and deflated, desperate to find the exit. Except there is nowhere to escape. Not at the bottom of a bottle or a bag of chips or in a shopping mall. Nowhere. Which leaves us with only one option: navigation.

“To feel crowded, set upon, blocked by circumstances, in defeat or victory, is not only the daily experience of most human beings in most contemporary societies; it has been an abiding dynamic of individual life since the dawn of human consciousness.” -David Whyte Consolations

Somehow we must chart a course and follow it regardless of the neverending storms that threaten to sink us.

Over the years through a lot of trial and error, I have learned that what seems to help me most when I am feeling besieged is for me to be alone.

In early fall of two thousand sixteen just before the election, I had reached a breaking point. The stress I was feeling about what I saw on the news every night, threatened to do me in.

My at home meditation practice wasn’t cutting it anymore; I needed to immerse myself in silence. I had twice attended silent meditation retreats at a Dharma center nearby to where I lived, the first lasting ten days, the second five. But for as grateful as I was each of those times, this time I felt strongly that I needed an opportunity to give back.

I checked their website and saw that they were offering old students a chance to come to the center to serve for a short three-day course being offered to preteens as an introduction to meditation. While there I would also be expected to help prepare the women’s side of the building by cleaning over one hundred private rooms before the next ten-day course for adults which would begin a few days later. I would also have the opportunity to join the group meditations lasting a total of about four hours a day.

I jumped at the chance but was somewhat disappointed after arriving when I learned that as servers we would be allowed to speak. In the past, the silence was what had saved me. I couldn’t hear the word’s Trump or Hillary even one more time fearing I may throw myself off a bridge.

My previous experience of remaining silent for ten days while meditating ten hours a day with more than a hundred other strangers living in close quarters had resulted in a strange shared intimacy between us, that’s never been easy to describe or forget. By the end of ten days I felt so close to those people, people I had never even spoken to, due to an invisible shared intimacy. That was the feeling I was attempting to tap into, so I feared being able to speak would inhibit that.

I was wrong. We did not talk about the election. We talked about our lives, our children, the experiences that brought us there and our shared love of humanity. We tossed around ideas about how each of us might contribute to the betterment of the world.

It was the first time I gave voice to my idea for starting this blog, and it was met with support and encouragement from these lovely women who were complete strangers to me just days before. I was learning another way to be in the world at a time when I felt the world needed me the most.

I had always been called upon to clean at home; it was a duty that fell squarely on my shoulders as another one of my unpaid jobs that I almost always resented. But somehow, cleaning over one hundred rooms from top to bottom, scrubbing over a hundred toilets and showers and laundering over one hundred towels, etc. filled me with a powerful sense of purpose.

I was giving myself to the service of others, but I was the one receiving everything I never knew I longed for in return.

It’s always hard for me to reenter the world after being safely tucked away for a time, and this time proved to be no different. But as difficult as it was to come home to the continued division and hateful speeches, somehow I was able to hold my center, that is until reality set in.

With the swearing in of our new president, I began swearing at the television or the computer or to any jackass that had the nerve to wave a MAGA hat in my face, literally or figuratively. I have lost friends over it and have watched in horror as Americans tear each other apart.

“If the world will not go away then the great discipline seems to be the ability to make an identity that can live in the midst of everything without feeling beset.” -David Whyte Consolations

It is a discipline that requires determination, patience, and persistence but rewards you with a sense of equanimity. The brief bit of peace I would seek from a few drinks now feels like cheating, having finally understood that the real reward comes from finding and living in balance. Now I find that a walk in the woods works just as well. It is its own reward for it brings me a sense of composure and psychological stability allowing for some time in a busy day that is undisturbed by my emotions, my pain, or anything else that forces me to lose my balance.

Balance. It’s another one of my tattoos, written in my own handwriting on the inside of my left wrist. Instead of checking the time it serves as a reminder to check in and to be kind to myself and others who I know are all struggling to do the same.

These days, when I’m feeling besieged by the world, I try harder to remember that this too shall pass. I may still reach for a drink, but I do so with an awareness that I never had before, and the result is one more of pleasure for pleasure itself instead of a means of escape.

Nel mezzo, in the midst of everything, as Dante said, to be besieged – but beautifully, because we have made a place to stand – in the people and the places and the perplexities we have grown to love, seeing them not now as enemies or forces laying siege, but as if for the first time, as participants in the drama, both familiar and strangely surprising.”  -David Whyte Consolations

I will never grow to love this president, that much I am sure of. But I do love the promise of us all coming together in the future, without all the drama, guided by real leadership, ready and willing to mend what has been broken.

 

NEXT WEEK: CONFESSION

 

About Amy

I am many things to many people. Daughter, sister, wife, mother, aunt, friend. I am a worshiper of nature on a journey inward, rewriting my story one word at a time.

2 Replies

  1. Such a better understanding I have for you now. I am so glad u r my grandchildrens mother

    1. Thank you, Bev! Love you.

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