Arn't I A Woman?: Top ten lessons I learned in 2013: Part 1



Dec 11, 2013

Top ten lessons I learned in 2013: Part 1

A Winter of the Mind

“It's a season governed by the recluse, the hermit. Activity gives way to dormancy. Life is still, indwelling and silent. This is a time of introversion, contemplation and going within. Symbolic winter invites us to quiet the mind, still the soul, and crystallize our inner workings. This is a time to ice skate through winter whites as a means of gaining purity and clarification.”

A depressive landscape emerges: it is marred with oblique jagged rocks shooting out of deep crimson sand, stabbing at lonely, barren air suffocated by a putrid smell of rotting flesh. I live here, for now. A winter of the mind has settled inside me; it is dark and all consuming and unquenchingly eats away at my hope and joy. A vanquishing, cancerous Pac-Man.

As much as I tried to fight it; as many positive affirmations I muttered under my breath, glasses of water I drank, and moments of mediation I allowed, the iron grip of winter blues has blanketed me like the year’s first fallen snow. I gracefully bow down to accept this offering, allowing the icicles to crawl over my skin and freeze my body.

Instead of avoiding such a hellish nightmare, my greatest chance of survival rather insists on me accepting it; I can only fight back once I understand my enemy. To understand my pain, I must first experience my pain. 

Coupled with this gust of shuddering winter winds comes the ushering in of a ubiquitous “New Year,” so I settle in to review my life over the past 12 months;  examine lessons learned and mistakes made. Like a football coach endlessly pouring over video footage and highlight reels of his team, I desperately search for silver linings.

I learned a lot this year, and tried a LOT of new things. Following are the top ten lessons I learned in 2013. Mainly in an effort to remind myself that even though maybe I'm not ending the year on the most confident, glamorous note I would have liked, I still picked up some things along the way that I think will bring me closer to Beyonce-ing up my life in 2014. 


1.           Its ok to flop.
This is ostensibly the difference between feeling shame vs. feeling guilt after you make a mistake. If you feel shame because of a mistake self-hate begins to fester; if you feel guilt you acknowledge the oh-so-human characteristic of making a mistake, extract what you may from it, and then move on. I like using the term “flop” because it doesn’t seem so emotionally charged. I’m obsessively critical of myself so mistakes often hammer into my head harmful ideas I developed during adolescence, so using the term flop adds levity. Humor, not happiness, is the great weapon against depression and its conjoining darkness.  This attitude is pretty important to adopt if you want to learn how to cope well in life. I remember relaying an embarrassing anecdote to my friend Brittany recently and then asking her “How do you deal when something mortifying happens to you?” She just casually laughed whilst replying: “Do you know how many times a day I do something to humiliate myself?” (Check out her awesome blog here: 'Flop' mainly reminds me of an album flopping, and it makes me think of Mariah Carey’s Glitter or Christina Aguilera’s Bionic. Maybe they weren’t the best albums, but their existence doesn’t diminish these artists’ past successes nor serve as a useful indicator of future successes, just as our mistakes don’t define us- rather they represent a very normal, every day part of our existence.
     2.     Things dont always have to start out well.
Because of the endless parade of variables and external factors that govern our social cosmos, things rarely work out let alone BEGIN in the most convenient, comfortable way- but that doesn’t mean things can’t END UP well. I’ve largely applied this in an attempt to manage my social anxiety, which normally is exacerbated by and self-perpetuated when events aren’t immediately comfortable and easy. Now I notice that things almost NEVER go as you expect them to, but that if you avoid every uncomfortable beginning, you’ll never have a story. A great way to do this is through switching gears towards mindfulness. Because we can never be sure how things will turn out, each moment in the cumulative journey are what matters over an end goal or result. 
     3.     ACT/DBT
There are so many new psychological sub-fields developing as we learn more about the brain and its neurological systems; in 2013 I was exposed to this via different third wave behavioral therapies. The first being ACT: Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. "ACT isn’t about trying to make you feel better, it’s about making you feel better"; in this way pain is simply “experiencing a new, different way of feeling.” Through ACT I learned to stop fighting the bad feelings I was having all the time. 
Resist resisting. Suffering comes from the resistance of pain; pain being a natural human function, defying it creates a whole new layer of discomfort. That’s when the proverbial shit hits the fan; that’s what we call suffering. Letting yourself feel your bad feelings in lieu of fighting them takes away the intense power your pain has over you, and can even allow you to lead a less debilitating life.
The second therapy I am currently studying is DBT: Dialectical Behavioral Therapy. Although I am a very vocal advocate for therapy, I was TERRIFIED to try group therapy this year. Even the most outspoken activist for mental health would have some trepidation about baring his/her soul to a roomful of strangers. Thankfully I did, because Dialectical Behavioral Therapy changed my life, and it changed the way I think- something traditional Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) was never able to do for me. According to Marsha Linehan, founder of DBT, dialectical means “Two ideas can both be true at the same time.” Examples: “You are right AND the other person is right.” “You are doing the best that you can AND you need to try harder.” “You can take care of yourself AND you need help from others.” This was more of an easy psychological framework for me to adopt because it explains and allows room for the glaring contradictions that govern human behavior.
Both of these therapies rely heavily on tenants of mindfulness and Buddhism and offer great alternatives to how we currently think. YOU CAN THINK BETTER! Isn't that crazy? You can just think better and your whole life could be different.That's the idealized version, of course, but exciting none the less.             
4.           “There was nothing I could do but change myself.”
This is a quote from quite possibly the most poignant work of literature ever produced (meant in seriousness, yet said in the voice of Will Ferrell impersonating James Lipton): “Assata: An Autobiography.” This book changed my life in such profound, beautiful ways that I can never go back to who I was before I read it. I could probably pluck just about any of the myriad quotes I underlined from this work out to share as a lesson, but this particular quote resonates with me on so many levels. In context of the work, Assata is relaying a story of her youth, in which she calls a boy who expresses romantic interest in her “too black and ugly to date.” Shocked at her own disgusting words she, on some level, immediately understood them as a reflection of her own insecurity and as internalized racism and sexism. She says:

“For weeks, maybe months, afterward, i was haunted by what happened that day, by the snakes that had crawled out of my mouth. The sneering hatred on his face every time i saw him after that made me know there was nothing i could do but change myself. Not for him, but for me. And i did change. After that i never said ”Black” and “ugly” in the same sentence and never thought it. Of course, i couldn’t undo all the years of self hatred and brainwashing in that short time, but it was a beginning. And although i still cared too much about what other people thought about me, i always tried hard after that to stand on my own two feet, to stand by what i felt and thought and not just be a robot. I didn’t always succeed, but I always tried like hell.”

There are often moments in our lives that become so dark, that truly the only thing we still posses is an ability to change. This year I have metaphorically slapped myself in the face whenever I found myself complaining or victimizing myself. Yes, there are systems that oppress me. Yes, there are childhood ghosts that haunt me. Yes, it is easier to submit to the hell around us, but by doing so we also fail to see the beauty. We participate in our own suffering, and this is important to understand on a political level. We have a million reasons to make wrong decisions and find ways to justify them through the chains that bind us; but that gives us nothing. Changing ourselves is the only part of the universe we have control over, and I have found that when I remember this, and make appropriate changes most of the other things that weigh me down aren’t strong enough to matter anymore.
5.           In a way, I enjoyed it all.
This quote was from an ACT book I was recommended. It means, when you are able to adjust your thinking to that of one that is accepting of negative life experiences, you can almost, in a way, enjoy them. We only have concepts of “good” and “bad” because we created them. Experiences truly are just that: experiences, and any value we place on them is of our own making.  That makes it a lot easier to chill out a little, to find ways to gain meaning out of every moment we are alive, and from every experience we have. Very existentialist, if you ask me. Everything is meaningless, thus freeing us to experience life in a much more valued way. 

Part 2 Coming Soon... 

1 comment:

  1. Wow. I am amazed at the things you say…you are becoming more enlightened, and self realized every day. I especially appreciate in #3: Two ideas can both be true at the same time. It is something I never thought about before, but it is very true. Also love your music list. Thank you, my love.


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Sojourner Truth

Well, children, where there is so much racket there must be something out of kilter. I think that 'twixt the negroes of the South and the women at the North, all talking about rights, the white men will be in a fix pretty soon. But what's all this here talking about?

That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain't I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain't I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man - when I could get it - and bear the lash as well! And ain't I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother's grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain't I a woman?

Then they talk about this thing in the head; what's this they call it? [member of audience whispers, "intellect"] That's it, honey. What's that got to do with women's rights or negroes' rights? If my cup won't hold but a pint, and yours holds a quart, wouldn't you be mean not to let me have my little half measure full?

Then that little man in black there, he says women can't have as much rights as men, 'cause Christ wasn't a woman! Where did your Christ come from? Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him.

If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back , and get it right side up again! And now they is asking to do it, the men better let them.

Obliged to you for hearing me, and now old Sojourner ain't got nothing more to say.

Sojourner Truth

Delivered 1851 at the Women's Convention

Akron, Ohio