The Struggle is Real
I met with a client this week who has been struggling. Before Covid he had a plan and it was working well for him. Then the pandemic came, followed by one challenge after another after another manifesting in his life. Along the way, he stopped being able to manage all the parts of his finances, so taxes didn't get done and some debts didn't get paid. Some of those challenges have now subsided, so he reached out to me to get his financial house back in order (or at least begin the declutter process).
At least half of our meeting was more like counseling than financial planning or tax strategy, with regular reminders from me that we can only do what we can do and sometimes other parts of life are more important than taxes. The pain and anguish of surviving the last year and a half was present in my client's every facial expression and every spoken word. The guilt he felt at not being able to "continue adulting" while handling tragedy after tragedy was palpable. And it was all so relatable. It seems like it's going around. Everyone is just a little frayed at the edges.
I think we're all just... worn out. Even people who have been professionally or personally thriving during Covid are still living through a pandemic. Still living in a world that is literally on fire. Still watching the Taliban take control of Afghanistan while the Afghani people make desperate pleas for help from the international community. Even though my life is generally pretty good and I have tremendous privilege, I am still living with bleak prospects for a stable future society and livable planet like everybody else.
I have my shit together in many areas of my life and I also struggle with many things. The most present for me lately is the roller-coaster of hormone-induced emotions I have been riding ever since my Covid vaccine. Me (and untold numbers of other uterus-having individuals) are having longer periods, heavier flows, and "break-through bleeding" when we shouldn't be bleeding at all. And I am struggling with it.
My Taiji teacher has always said "emotions are our Earthly guides." When we experience an emotion, it is a message from our body about something important. Since our body cannot express words, it talks to us through a language in which it can communicate. When I feel angry, that usually means there is some injustice happening. When I am grumpy, that usually means I am lacking in some kind of self-care. When I am scared, that usually means something is dangerous or I feel unsupported.
I have spent a lot of time giving space to my emotions and practiced listening to what my body is telling me. I thought I had it down. Then came my vaxx jab. I am still overwhelmingly grateful I got the Covid vaccine, but it came with an unexpected struggle: I can no longer use the same method for deciphering all my emotions. Before, my feelings were like balloons on a string I could follow back to their source. These new PMS-flavored emotions are more like surprise pies to the face.
Some struggles we volunteer for: challenging workouts, survival backpacking, learning new things. Other struggles appear in our life uninvited. I mostly think of struggle as a normal part of the journey of life. Like a sticky swamp I have to wade through to get from where I am to some places I want to go. But what about when the struggle itself is no longer a process we're going through and it becomes our identity?
Significant or traumatic experiences are always going to be a part of who we are, but I have noticed lately that some folks seem to be entirely comprised of their trauma. They hold themselves out as nothing more than beings of emotional instability, lack of self-esteem, and caffeine addiction. Maybe it's because being some kinds of human in our society and dealing with the never-ceasing abuse and neglect doesn't leave room for healing. Or maybe it's because that is the only example they have access to.
In some ways wearing the badge of trauma can be healing in itself. The markers of our struggle serve as connection points, giving us a way to relate to other humans who have similar experiences. And that's a good thing. Seeing some of yourself or you experience in another person is humanizing and empowering. But I don't want to re-live a struggle from one part of my life day after day, week after week, year after year, for the rest of my life. I want to put that baggage down eventually so I can travel lighter in my future.
The way I know how to do that works for me, so I share it. But everyone is different. I just want everyone to have access to the kind of emotional processing and support they need to heal. I hope we can be easier on ourselves and easier on each other through that process. I hope we continue to acknowledge our own humanity so we can allow the full humanity of everyone else. I hope we can channel that into better societal systems that don't impose ridiculous and impossible standards for what counts as being a contributing member of society.
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Choices from Options
I heard a story this week about a parent on the other side of the globe who made an impossible choice. They sold their youngest child into servitude to raise funds needed for their oldest child’s wedding. The person who told me this tragic tale was aghast that any parent could ever do that to their child. From this teller’s perspective (of American middleclass safety and privilege), that was a purely unforgivable act.
To me it sounded like a horrifying set of options, as opposed to just an evil choice. It was not a choice between dooming their child to a life of bondage or providing that child with an otherwise normal life. It was a choice between providing one child a chance at a better life or dooming both children to a life of destitution and poverty. There was no good option in this case, so it was impossible to make a good choice.
While it is true that we are each responsible for the choices we make, it is highly relevant which options are available at the time of choosing. It is critical to consider the context in which a parent chooses between their children. Humanizing people in that way lets you see the choices they had, not just the choice they made. And it reveals more cleanly that the real problem is the system they are trying to function in.
Months ago I had a discussion with a friend who is a racism skeptic. There was a meme going around the internet at the time that he shared with me to make a point. It’s an image of three humans of color in a court room. One is the defendant, one is their attorney, and one is the judge. The point of the meme is that each person’s choices are what landed them in the position they occupy in this imaginary courtroom. But, just like my friend, the meme is missing a key point.
A person can only choose to go to law school and become a lawyer (and later a judge) if they have access to certain things. Access to supportive adults who will guide them along a life path aimed at a reputable college. Access to the financial resources to pay for school. Access to mentors who can help make connections with potential future employers or colleagues. Access to a supportive community that believes in their potential and nurtures their abilities.
Achievement does not exist in a vacuum, especially in our capitalist society. And neither does failure. There are many studies that show the socio-economic status of the family you are born into has much more bearing on the life you will lead as a future adult than any of the choices you make along the way. Financial stability, emotional stability, community stability are the necessary foundations from which a person can express their capability and achieve amazing things.
Of course there are stories of people who made great achievements despite all circumstances stacked against them. These are the very few exceptions that prove rule. And even those stories include at least one fortuitous connection with the right person at the right time in the right place. In other words: those stories include at least one point at which a good option was available to choose from.
Reflecting on my own life I can see many points at which I had a good option to select. My career all started decades ago with a conversation I had with a family friend in my parents livingroom. I wanted a better paying job and he told me about working for the IRS. He happened to mention it on the very last day to apply for that years round of hiring. Many years later, that same friend suggested I apply for a job in a different department that gave me the experience I needed to leave the Service and start my own business.
My martial training is similarly full of positive happenstance. A friend invited me to the grand opening of his roommate’s martial arts school. I watched the demos, enjoyed the snacks, and signed up for the extremely low-priced intro offer. When that expired I had a steady job so I could continue to pay the regular cost of dues. It happened to be a positive learning environment without the toxic bro culture that exists in many other martial arts schools so my training thrived.
At some point, women from the dojo invited me to a camp run by the Pacific Association of Women Martial Artists. At that first PAWMA camp I attended a session taught by my current Taiji teacher. I came back to the Shanti System a couple years later and that practice was exactly the compliment I needed to round-out my Mo Duk Pai training.
My family and home life evolved in a similar way. With people coming into my life at exactly the time when I was open to that connection. I have made many good choices over the course of my life. They are part of what has shaped my existence into the fulfilling situation it currently is. And I could never have managed it without the privilege of access to healthy options along the way.
Information and Inspiration
Why so complicated?
Recently I had a conversation with a gay man about pronouns. When he was coming of age, it was much harder to be out than it is today. He carved out a space of legitimacy for his sexuality despite the resistance of misunderstanding and the opposition of bigotry. And now he is watching the next generation coming into their own and they confound him. "Identify however you identify, that’s fine" he said, "but why do you need so many new words and titles? Why does it have to be so complicated?"
Why does it have to be so complicated?
The short answer is: because it always has been. Humans are complicated. There have always been gay people and queer people and people who think and feel and act differently than the default image offered as standard by culture or community. Some of those ways of being just weren't widely recognized by modern society until recently.
Because of that lack of broader recognition, we have not always had language to describe some identities. Our modern terms were not part of the historical lexicon. But just because something was invisible or unnamed doesn't mean it didn't exist. And just because record-keepers throughout time did not think something was noteworthy, doesn't mean it wasn't important.
Fortunately, the ability to gatekeep the official record of humanity has been somewhat diminished by the existence of the internet. That is not to say the internet is open and available to everyone everywhere, because it certainly isn't. But it is possible today for me to peruse collections of information about indigenous or queer or femm historical figures curated by someone on the internet. Having access to those stories is critical for the future of humanity.
The more I learn about the varied experiences and expressions of other humans, the more I see myself in all those people from all those other times, cultures, and places. The more I see them in me, and the more ways I find to explore myself. The more of my own intricacies and quirks and layers I explore, the more parts of my self I can integrate into wholeness.
I am complicated. You are complicated. We are all complicated. And that complexity is what makes us fantastic and fascinating. Recognizing it is empowering. Being my most complete me and expressing myself from that place of resting-in to wholeness gives folks around me permission to do the same. And when everyone is free to be and do and feel and think exactly as they are, we all live a less constrained life. So go ahead and be complicated. Just like everybody else.
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Is it actually about you?
Sometimes is not about me. Even when it seems very much like it is definitely about me. Even when I feel so intensely that there is no possible way it is about anything other than me. Even some of those times, it's just... not. Like that time I had a disagreement with a committee chair, then was promptly left off an email chain where a critical decision was made about the previously disagreed-on topic. It turned out to be a mistake made by a different person who just misspelled my email.
This kind of thing happens to most people at some point, but despite its common occurrence some folks struggle with it more than others. I saw a stark example recently while re-watching a livestream of a protest. A large crowd gathered to hold a vigil for Kevin Peterson Jr in the parking lot where he was shot by police. A block away, a group of Antifa-hating individuals also gathered. Most of the media streamers were with the vigil crowd, but one posted up with the anti-anti-fascists on the opposite corner.
The members of this other group bonded over a shared dislike of Antifa and congratulated each other on showing up to defend the neighborhood. They clearly thought they were the one and only thing preventing looting and riots. Their collective level of self-delusion would have been impressive if it weren't so sad. A hundred feet (and lightyears of ideology) away, family members and community leaders gave speeches about justice and remembrance.
A small delegation from the vigil approached the parking lot defenders, informed them a march was about to pass right by their location, and requested not to be followed. Some discussion ensued, and ultimately the counter-vigilers agreed not to follow the march if the marchers agreed not to follow them in return. The non-marchers were planning to go nowhere, but that didn't seem relevant.
Then the march began. The crowd of mourners walked to the end of the block and turned the corner, passing right by the would be defenders of the bar parking lot. Just as was foretold, the march paid them no mind. They chanted and waved signs and made their way through the neighborhood to their ultimate destination for a muscial performance and more speeches.
Meanwhile, the people in the parking lot were embroiled in discussion about all the ways in which they must be on the mind of every marcher at that very moment. Those Antifa masquerading as mourners would take a certain route specifically designed to annoy the people in the parking lot. They would definitely follow them later even though they agreed not to follow them. They would come back to break windows and spray paint stuff the moment the parking lot post appeared to be abandoned. They had the marchers all figured out. Except they didn't. None of those predictions transpired.
The reality was: nobody cared about them at all. The vigil attendees had other things on their mind and did not need to spare any thoughts for these random and unpleasant strangers congregating in a parking lot. And yet, rather than recognize the actual reason people gathered in the rain for a sullen walk through the streets, they all assumed it was somehow about them. Listening to their banter, I was surprised just how sure they were of their own relevance, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
It occurred to me maybe no one has ever told these people the world does not revolve around them. My parents definitely let me in on that little secret growing up. It also occurred to me that maybe the world has actually revolved around their wants and needs and preferences. These were all white people, so it's possible they have never not been the most important person in the room. It is possible their comfort has been elevated over other considerations. I imagine that experience would make it difficult to conceive of other possibilities.
That is essentially how the dynamic between my x-husband I developed. He had many emotional needs and I had no boundaries. I did not insist on any room for my emotional needs, so for the first ten years we were together any emotional space was held only for him. Then one day I realized that wasn't sustainable and I no longer wanted that dynamic. I wanted to be considered and I wanted to be able to have needs. But because that wasn't how our relationship had ever worked before, my x-husband could not wrap his head around what I was asking for. It was like a betrayal because I was breaking the unspoken contract of how we related to each other.
Probably that's how millions of white or wealthy Americans feel when asked to consider all the other humans typically neglected by greater society. Our systems and institutions were built to uplift light-skinned humans and oppress dark-skinned humans. Uplift male-presenting humans and oppress female-presenting humans. Uplift those who start out with more money and oppress those who begin with less money. Parts of our systems are changing. It's not about you, Karen. It’s not about you, Chad. Please step aside so we can shine some light on a few someone elses.
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Jaydra is a human in-process, working to make the world a better place. Sharing thoughts, feelings, and observations about the human experience.