The Many Ways to Isolate
The author, Barbara Sher, says “Isolation is the dream killer.” She says it’s not your attitude or your skill level or your work ethic. My book would not be published now if I had not been a part of a group that encouraged, prodded, and supported me for the last year. Had a chosen to pull away, I know my book would not be done. The romantic idea of a writer ensconced in a Parisian garret plonking away writing is the worst kind of myth. I doubt ten books have been completed that way.
Yet, knowing this, I still find myself in the habit of isolating.
I laughed out loud at myself this morning when I thought, “If I can just make those amends, then I can be left in peace.” I really thought that. La! My ego is so stupid sometimes.
I looked up the word isolate (because that’s what I like to do) to see the origin of the word. Thank you Online Etymology Dictionary!
isolated (adj.) “standing detached from others of its kind,” 1740, a rendering into English of French isolé “isolated” (17c.), from Italian isolato, from Latin insulatus “made into an island,” from insula “island” (see isle (n.)). English at first used the French word (isole, also isole’d, c. 1750), then after isolate (v.) became an English word, isolated became its past participle.
I realized I can island myself with a lot of other humans around just by thinking of myself as different/not-as-good/better-than them, too.
My days and evenings could be filled with activities, yet I could just be isolating in a more subtle way.
I insulate myself from my own feelings when I want nothing more than to be alone so I can eat.
I stand apart from humanity whenever I make someone “them” and put me with an “us.”
To quote Paul Simon, on Sounds of Silence, “And a rock feels no pain. And an island never cries.”
I said in my book that no one can complete a Hero’s Journey alone. I know that is true. I know that life is layered with Journeys. I know, too, that isolating is always the results of an ego-identity desperate to be right and special. To feel that it must make me feel separate.
Scary Goal for Next Year
Do we all say this: “How has the year already passed?” For the last two years I have set specific, measurable goals. Each year I’ve pushed myself. I’ve not been perfect, but good enough. I liked how the goals have changed me.
I started throwing some ideas on a flip chart for next year’s goals. Keri Smith‘s book, “The Imaginary World of —“, popped into my mind. I’ve had it for two years, but have never done anything with it. It wasn’t even on the bookshelves, but hiding in a lidded bench. Who put it there?!
It’s an intriguingly empty book, every few pages is another exercise to build my own imaginary world. It scares the beejezus out of me.
I talked to a friend about it.
Steph: You don’t ever write in books do you?
Me: No. Never. I never even highlighted a book in college.
Steph: I don’t think that’s what it is.
Me: No. I’m afraid that I’ll fill it in and someone will see it and it’ll be wrong or not good enough… [Oooh. Awful grade school art project memories are coming up just writing this.]
Steph: You know there’s no wrong way to do it.
Me: Yeah. But that doesn’t make me feel any better.
Steph: If you write in the book, you become a part of it instead of standing outside of it. It’s a completely different experience. Writing inside it will change you in ways that even doing the exercises and writing them in another notebook couldn’t.
Guess I’m going to do this next year. eep.
Stoke of Insight
I’m reading “My Stroke of Insight” by Jill Bolte Taylor. For some reason I’m struggling to get through it. I think my mind is refusing the concepts.
One line is both poignant and poetic. “And I must say, there was both freedom and challenge for me in recognizing that our perception of the external world, and our relationship to it, is a product of our neurological circuitry. For all those years of my life, I really had been a figment of my own imagination.” [emphasis mine]
I’ve been reading a little bit each day of The Book of Not Knowing: Exploring the True Nature of Self, Mind, and Consciousness by Peter Ralston. Most mornings it kicks my butt. The other morning I stopped reading at this quote,
“Why are you unhappy? Because 99.9 percent of everything you do is for yourself – and there isn’t one.” Wei Wu Wei.
Immediately I remembered a quote from Neale Donald Walsch’s Communion with God*
‘’Indeed, everything that you have ever wanted, you are now supplying to others. And the wonder of it all is that, as you give, so do you receive. You suddenly have more of whatever you are giving away.
The reason for this is clear. It has nothing to do with the fact that what you have done is “morally right,” or “spiritually enlightened,” or “the will of God.” It has to do with a simple truth: There is no one else in the room. There is only one of us.”
*Thank you, Jan, for helping me find exactly where it was in the Conversation with God series.
At first it looks like a paradox until you go back to the last line of the Communion quote, “There is only one of us.”
No self, no other, just all. Yeah.
“Once you have made the commitment to free yourself of the scared person inside…” – Michael Singer, The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself.
When I read that line, I had a physical reaction. Sound rushed in my ears, my throat constricted, my heart sped up.
Almost my whole life, the story I told myself of who I am, is really not who I am. I thought I was a mean-angry person at the core, and I had been working for several years on letting her go. She was just the gate-guard for the scared person.
Preparing to write this, I had a glimmer of thought that letting the mean-angry identity run my life, while protecting me, has had limited potential. It always had to keep an eye on the prime mission of hiding and protecting the scared person.
Letting myself fully experience being frightened or being a scared person showed me a different person. A person I am actually more compassionate with than the mean-angry girl. This fear is not of anything that I’d label “animal fear.” Nothing is going to kill me or maim me. This is fear of ego and identity-self. An existential fear is the best way I can label it.
It took a great willingness for me to experience that resisted identity. It doesn’t matter whether it comes unbidden or I set out deliberately to create and experience it. Only by experiencing it fully can I know that (a) it will not kill me (b) it is a creation just like everything else.
What’s after that fear is experienced though is a “self” so wide and great and all encompassing it’s not explainable.
Setting aside time to process allows me to know what it feels like, so when I encounter the leading edge of the feeling during the day, I allow myself to feel it. The funny thing is I expected allowing myself to feel fear to look like I was cowering in the corner all day. Not at all the case. It’s also not obvious to others what I’m doing, except that I am not covering something up.
I have more compassion right now for those who let their frightened self out for all to see. It is still a bit repugnant for me to view – more opportunity there! A big thank you to the Avatar tools for enabling me to experience these feelings safely and without judgment.
World’s Strongest Librarian
Josh Hanagarne has written a superb memoir in The World’s Strongest Librarian. He’s been keeping a fantasticly interesting blog, too. Same name. http://worldsstrongestlibrarian.com/
I love a book that makes me think, makes me question myself, and makes me look up stuff.
Hanagarne is so refreshingly open and vulnerable throughout the whole book. This is evidence (hey, writers, pay attention!!) that the more personal and specifically you write, the more likely others are able to identify with you and your book. Counterintuitive only at a glance; when you think about it, it underlines the universality of the human experience.
He writes, “A mind that no longer questions only fulfills the rudimentary aspects of its function. A mind without wonder is a mere engine, a walking parasympathetic nervous system, seeing without observing, reacting without thinking, a forgotten ghost in a passive machine.”
It’s not enough to just read the book
As a writer and avid reader I will always love books. I love every flavor of book from twenty-page poetry chapbooks to Plumbing How-to Guides to 700-page novels. I’ve bought plenty of spiritual (aka self-help) books over the years. I don’t think I’ve ever been given any, but I’ve given plenty away. My favorite books to give away include Illusions by Richard Bach, Conversations with God by Neil Donald Walsh, There is Nothing Wrong with You by Cheri Huber, Living Deliberately by Harry Palmer, and (new one) Daring Greatly by Brene Brown. Sharing a book that offered you insights is a great pleasure, especially when the person you gift comes back to you with gratitude.
I’ve realized, though, that while reading the book sometimes does change the way you think, most of the time it is only a superficial, intellectual experience rather than a life experience. (I can’t tell you how many books warned me about that!) To get the full value of any spiritual book, I have to do the exercises, try the examples! Yes, there it is again: practice.
Here’s my mode:
- Read the passage.
- Vet it: examine it intellectually first. Really sit and think about it. Do I believe it? Is it attractive to try? Am I afraid to try it? (Fear is usually a big pointy red flashing arrow that says I should.)
- Schedule a time to do the exercise or do it right then.
- Think about what I learned from the exercise.
- Determine if this exercise could be added to my practice (daily, weekly, ad hoc, etc.)
Honestly, I don’t do this with every book, and it can mean it takes a long time to finish the book. But if the author moves me, I know I will get much more from the book if I do what they suggest. I remember Thich Nhat Hanh describing how to do a walking meditation in Peace is Every Step. His words are very powerful, but I can’t quote any of them from memory. What I do remember very clearly is putting those words into action walking down the driveway and up the street, tears streaming down my face while smiling.
I’m going to do that again right now.