On Living with Integrity (and Inside-Out Leggings)
Last week, I arrived at my meditation group about five minutes before starting time. I was running late because I had decided I could finish just one more thing before I left my apartment. Trying to finish just one more thing–a frequent challenge for me lately. When I entered the meditation room, I pulled the glass door closed softly behind me, hugged the side wall, stowed my purse in a corner, then slipped out of my Velcro-strapped sandals as quietly as possible. I scanned the room and waved hello to folks I knew. Most of the regulars were already seated; I spotted an empty chair in the center of the half-circle. Yes! I zipped across the open space in my bare feet and claimed my spot. Yes! I made it! Just under the wire, but at least I didn’t interrupt the group leader. Whew! Just as I began to relax my shoulders away from my ears, just as I began to settle into my seat, just as I invited in a deep breath and exhaled a sigh of relief, a soft voice from a few seats over whispered, kindly but with a tinge of concern, a question in my direction:
“Theresa, are your pants on inside out?”
What? I tilted my head down and fixed my gaze upon my thighs. I stretched out my legs in front of me and examined the state of my black leggings. Well, I’ll be damned. Thick seams ran up the inside and outside edges of my thighs. I quickly retraced my morning steps in my mind to find some plausible explanation for this faux pas. Yes, the bedroom was dark when I got dressed this morning. My mind was racing ahead to a meeting I have later today. I was thinking about several deadlines; I simply wasn’t paying attention to my clothing enough to turn the light on or open the blinds. My attire was the least of my concerns.
With a smirk in my questioner’s direction, I replied, “Yes. You are right! My pants are on inside out. How about that?! Thanks for telling me.” The woman with the kind voice smiled. I returned her smile, raised my eyebrows, and nodded, “I guess you can tell I’ve had kind of a rough week?” She chuckled and said, “It happens to the best of us.” Then I felt my embarrassment lift; I threw my head back and laughed. A small group of folks within earshot shared a chuckle with me. I appreciated that they were laughing with me and not at me. I stifled a few self-directed giggles during the early minutes of our silent meditation. It’s a good thing I’m not perfect.
As I write this reflection, I am reminded of some lyrics in the song “Upside-Down and Inside-Out” by the contemporary rock band, OK GO. (If you haven’t seen the video for that song, it is eye candy worth sampling; the band members bop around with paint-filled balloons in a zero-gravity airplane. Colorful chaos ensues.) Anyway, I listen to this song frequently, and the lyrics that resonate for me are, “When you met the new you, were you scared? Were you cold? Were you kind? When you met the new you, did someone die inside? Won’t stop, can’t stop, it’s like a freight train!” These words about sum up the past month for me: A change in my life has hit me like a freight train. I am a “new me.” I wonder, how will I treat this woman who is taking on new challenges while wearing her leggings inside out in public?
But wait, wait, wait… Let’s back up, here. Just a few months ago I was living in accordance with this well-known quote from Letters to a Young Poet by Rainier Maria Rilke, “…have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves…don’t search for the answers…live the questions now…perhaps…far in the future, without noticing it, you will live your way into the answer.” After experiencing internal strife over the last several years, I gave up the struggle to know the answers to “everything unresolved in my heart.” I was perfectly content living the questions, practicing patience until sometime “far in the future” when all would be revealed, when darkness would turn to light. Then, quite by surprise, a seismic shift occurred in my life between Christmas and New Year’s Day, almost without me noticing it. So, I have gone from my recent former self standing on the precipice of the Unknowable Next Thing, longing for authenticity and integrity to guide me, guarding my threshold space like a warrior holding a shield, to suddenly standing smack in the middle of “living my way into the answer.” Case in point: The image below. A few days ago, I did a guided meditation to help me set an intention for 2019. I stayed very much in process, let go of any need for my art to be fine-art pretty, and simply poured out images that entered my imagination: An arrow pointing forward supported by my trusted mandala, entering a block of green. Then, this writing came:
“I am living in integrity, moving forward with trust and love, creating building blocks for my future.”
So, what happened? How did my inside finally come out? How is it that I am sharing my images and writing with the world on this website instead of pouring them all into my journals, as I had in recent months, and had for years before that? How am I now offering my own mindful creativity workshops and trusting that people will show up? In short: I got angry. Yes, I got angry, and that experience helped spur a sequence of events that revealed what I incontrovertibly value. As Arthur Burt put it, “Nothing happens until the pain of remaining the same outweighs the pain of change.”
Before the holidays, I spoke with a life adviser with whom I’d connected over the past several months to share tales of my early and more recent pivotal life experiences. I’d sought her counsel to help me surmount the obstacles I saw on my path. On this day, I was explaining, yet again, how challenging it was for me to face the obstacles ahead. (In other words, I offered abundant reasons why I could not move forward with tasks I thought I wanted to do, but wasn’t sure I wanted to do, and I wasn’t sure how to move forward if I also wasn’t sure I wanted to do these tasks… argh! It’s maddening just writing about my ambivalence.) After some discussion, I expressed my frustration at my inability to determine the source of my resistance. This adviser informed me that someone with my history and life experiences will never find the total fulfillment I am seeking in any one place, any one job, so I may as well accept that and learn to accept a life of partial fulfillment in a variety of places. I felt discouraged and disappointed by this feedback, although in my heart I wondered if she might be right. For the last few years, I have been seeking a way to bring my talents, abilities, and personality into alignment; I trusted there was a way to do this and if I lived that question long enough, answers would emerge.
A few days after speaking with this adviser, I wrote in my journal about our discussion. I vented much of my frustration, expressed my anger (“She doesn’t know me!”), and at the end of all that, I entered the world of self-empathy… and collage. I had recently printed out many of my favorite images, screenshots, selfies, and inspiring memes I’d collected on my phone over the last six months. I began to explore these images without any specific goal. I knew they would tell me where they wanted to go on the page, how they would fit together. I was curious about their messages; I stayed open to any wisdom they held. When it felt right, I began moving them around on the pages, adding paint and more writing. Several pages of collaged artwork emerged from this contemplative time (one of these images I’ve included as the featured image for this post; a selfie I took following a movement process along with two owls collaged beside me). I meditated; focused on my breath. Again, I let go of my need to know. (Note: A special labyrinth walk also contributed wisdom here; I will share those insights in a separate post, soon).
Shortly before New Year’s Eve, I experienced an epiphany as I spent time with my collaged images and read over my writing. My adviser might not have been able to see the alignment happening through our conversations, but I could see it happening right in my journal! Taken together, the new images I’d created offered new insight. I wrote this passage in my journal:
“I can fulfill my needs and provide my own source of love and trust and authenticity. It comes down to this: ARTIST. I am the ARTIST of my own life. Being an artist, being a writer, connecting with my story, and inspiring others to connect with their stories, connect with their creativity, brings my talents, abilities, and personality into alignment. INTEGRATION!”
I realized my artist-self has been standing beside me this whole time, she has been there through several false starts and setbacks; our alignment has been there, I just couldn’t see it. Or, perhaps I was not willing to believe it. Now I could see my artist-self, this “new me,” standing right in front of me, beckoning, saying,
“These obstacles are NOT insurmountable. In fact, they are not obstacles at all. They are opportunities. You have me, your spiritual power animals, your community of supporters, and your boundless creativity backing you up. You’ve got this, girl! Rest time is over. Time for forward motion. You have everything you need. Ok. Go!”
I felt as though I’d known her all along, this voice of strength, clarity, and certainty. And that would make sense… We have been traveling this journey together. I let go of needing to know, I trusted the process of self-inquiry through the arts, and answers emerged. And today, as I write these words, I trust her counsel; she knows the way forward. Here she is. Here I am. And here we are in one body. And here is this website. Here is this blog post. Opportunities. Voila!
Much like the moment when I realized I wore my leggings inside out to my meditation group, this process of letting my inside out, letting my artist-self out, is a vulnerable space to occupy. The old me, the insecure, self, the questioning self has died inside. But there are remnants, and sometimes I feel scared; the anxiety bloom rises from my chest to my face like in the old days. At these times, I call to mind my favorite Brene Brown mantras: Embrace imperfection. Vulnerability is strength. Then my heart rate slows back to normal. The freight train of my new self is speeding down the track, but I am more accustomed to a slow-winding, wandering path. So, inside-out can feel like upside-down, but this I know and trust: I am prepared to be kind to myself. I am prepared to laugh at myself. I am prepared to be perfectly imperfect. I can’t stop, I won’t stop, being me. I’m ready for colorful chaos. After years spent in darkness, it’s my time to rise and be the light I want to see. My voice will be heard. I will create my own destiny…
And if that destiny includes members of the public noticing the inside seams of my leggings on occasion, so be it.